13 Jan 2022

How to say sorry

A sincere apology should always be offered when your actions have had a negative impact on other people. Even if you do not fully understand why someone is so upset, respect their feelings, and accept that your actions are the root of the problem.

Don’t pass the buck, or use your apology as a way of blaming someone else. Don’t plead mitigating or extenuating circumstances, or engage in retrospective regrets: “With hindsight, I should have…” Don’t argue that your misdeeds were essentially based on a misunderstanding of salient circumstances. Take full responsibility for your actions. Never ever use the phrase ”I’m sorry if I offended/disappointed/enraged you.” You must fully own the fault – no ifs, not buts.

An apology will be much more persuasive if you acknowledge, and even reiterate, the nature of the fault: “I’m sorry I was so irritable last night” is more specific than a simple “I’m sorry”, and actually recognises the other person’s grievance. Never temper your apologies with accusations or insinuations: it will negate the impact if an apology is immediately followed by self-justification or further criticism. If you have committed a real faux-pas consider sending a handwritten note – but only after you have offered a verbal apology, otherwise it will look like cowardice.

The British urge to apologise for other people’s actions is famous. If someone barges into you, a muttered “sorry” is misplaced. Constant, needless apologising, when you are not the actual offender, devalues the currency, and will lessen the impact of a genuine, heartfelt mea culpa. It is important that you recognise when an apology is called for and that you sincerely acknowledge the magnitude of the offence.

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