How to Apologize Without Making Things Worse


We’ve all been there – you’ve messed up, hurt someone you care about, and you know an apology is in order. But the right words seem to escape you. It’s tempting to try and justify your actions or downplay the situation. However, a poorly-phrased apology can leave the other person feeling even worse. To ensure your apology has the intended effect, it’s essential to understand what NOT to say.

silhouette, apologize, sorryExcuses (“I was tired,” “I didn’t mean it,” etc.)

While it’s understandable to want to explain your actions, an apology filled with excuses rings hollow. Excuses, even if legitimate, shift the focus away from the impact your actions had on the other person. They signal that you’re not fully taking responsibility for the hurt you’ve caused.

Blameshifting (“If you hadn’t…, I wouldn’t have…”)

Turning the tables on the person you’ve hurt only adds to their pain. We recommend not saying the words “if”, or “but” as they often lead to shifting the blame. Blameshifting phrases like “If you hadn’t made me angry…” or “Well, you always…” imply that your actions were somehow justified and place the responsibility on the other person. This makes an apology feel insincere and prevents genuine reconciliation. 

Minimizing (“It’s not a big deal,” “Don’t be so sensitive”)

Telling someone to “get over it” or that they’re “overreacting” negates their feelings. Minimizing the impact of your actions invalidates the other person’s experience and makes them feel like their hurt doesn’t matter. Even if you think the situation isn’t a big deal, it’s crucial to acknowledge that you’ve caused them pain.

The Word “But”

A simple “but” can undo any good intentions behind an apology. If you use the word “but” whatever you say next will most likely negate your apology. For example, saying “I’m sorry, but…” immediately introduces a justification or an excuse. It sends the message that you’re not genuinely taking ownership of your actions and their consequences.

Alternatives for Effective Apologizing

Instead of making excuses, blameshifting, or minimizing, a sincere apology focuses on:

  • Acknowledging the hurt: “I understand that my actions hurt you deeply.”
  • Taking responsibility: “I was wrong, and I take full ownership of my mistake.”
  • Expressing empathy: “I can imagine how that made you feel.”
  • Showing a desire to change: “I’m committed to doing better and not repeating this behavior.”

Conclusion

An apology is an opportunity to repair a relationship, but only if delivered with sincerity and a recognition of the harm you’ve caused. By avoiding the pitfalls of excuses, blameshifting, minimizing, and the word “but,” you can ensure your apology paves the way for forgiveness and healing. Remember, a heartfelt “I’m sorry” goes a long way, but it’s only the first step. True change requires action and a commitment to doing better in the future.

Are you ready to take ownership of your mistakes and offer a genuine apology?

Remember:

  • Own your actions: Apologize sincerely, without excuses or blaming.
  • Acknowledge the hurt: Validate the other person’s feelings and show genuine empathy.
  • Commit to change: Make a plan to prevent the same mistake from happening again.
  • Focus on healing: A heartfelt apology can open the door to forgiveness and rebuilding trust.