How To Apologize - Part One

Saying you're sorry in West Los Angeles

Everything About Saying You're Sorry...

After attending a lecture by one of my favorite psychologists, Harriet Lerner, I decided that I’d better buy the book and learn some more about how to get people to apologize to me… um, cough, I mean how to give a good apology. Fortunately, Dr. Lerner’s book covers pretty much everything about apologizing: how to apologize yourself, how to receive an apology, what to do when someone asks you for an apology that you think is unfair, and how to ask  someone to apologize to you.

Here are some of the gems I got from Dr. Harriet Lerner’s book, Why Won’t You Aplogize?:

10 Ways Not to Apologize:

1. I’m sorry but…

If you say “but”, everything that follows will negate the apology before it. Don’t bother if you can’t just say “I’m sorry for (whatever you did or said).”

Wrong way sign in West Los Angeles

2. I’m sorry you feel that way

This is both easy and common, but it implies that maybe what you did wasn’t really offensive–it’s just that they are being overly sensitive.

They are responsible for their own feelings, and you are responsible for your words and actions. Own it.

3. “I’m sorry if I…”

Again, you need to own it, or it doesn’t count. No “ifs”, “ands”, or “buts”. Literally.

4.  Over-apologizing

You know these people. Please don’t be one. It makes your real apologies carry so much less weight.

5. Over –emoting.

It’s not about your feelings, it’s about what you did or said. Don’t apologize so much that the offended person has to end up reassuring you.

6. Under-doing

I personally experience this mostly in service situations. Like recently in a New York City restaurant where my meal was served 30 minutes after everyone else’s, I got the wrong meal, and when I finally got the meal it was clearly thrown together. Everyone else was already finished eating. And the owner came over and said, “I’m so sorry the kitchen was backed up”. What? Where’s the complimentary dessert or wine?

Apologizing in West Los Angeles

I’m not going to be mad all day, but I’m not going back, either. An appropriate apology would have won my repeat business.

7. The Gaslight apology– “I did the best I could”, or “I didn’t mean to…”

This apology probably falls under the “I’m sorry, but…” category, but it is especially insidious, because it says to the “victim” that they don’t have a right to be offended. Nothing says, “I don’t really give a rip” like telling someone that you are the good guy in this situation.

8. No- acknowledgment of the offense

“Whatever I did to upset you, I’m sorry”

Really, if you don’t know what you said or did, please figure it out before you apologize.

9. Apologizing for your own peace of mind only

Sometimes the other person doesn’t want to hear from you, and they have probably made this perfectly clear. Maybe they have moved on from the issue, and your bringing it up brings back painful memories they would rather not have.  

If you are trying to make amends for something you did or said so you can feel better about yourself, first consider the effect on the recipient of your apology. Sometimes you just have to make peace with everything on your own.

10. “Please forgive me”

This one’s tricky. And it’s best to try to be careful to see how the other person responds. Some people expect you to add “Please forgive me” to an apology, because it shows you understand that you did something that is offensive enough to need forgiveness. Some people don’t like to hear this in an apology because it turns the focus on the apologizer and what they want. Be sensitive about this, and if you use it, don’t overdo.

How to Make a Great Apology

 Once you know what not to do (namely, most of the things we have all been doing already!), it is much easier to understand what you should do when apologizing!

1.  Accept responsibility.

“I was wrong.”

2. Express remorse  

Man who is sorry in West Los Angeles

“I am sorry”

3. Reassure

“I promise to do my best to insure it won’t happen again”

And, in the case of a “large hurt”:

4. Listen, Listen, Listen.

Listen to the offended person’s feelings with an open heart. If it was a very large transgression, you may need to listen on more than one occasion, to show that you really do care.

Coming next week: Part Two How to Receive an Apology, and How to Respond to an Unfair Accusation

 Do you harbor resentment about things that have happened in your past? Are they messing with your peace of mind?

Therapy can help with obsessive thinking and resentment, even in the case of serious offenses. I like to refer to this process as “letting go”, rather than as “forgiveness”. Letting go is about not carrying around negative feelings that are keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep, being able to focus on your day, or having the relationships you desire.

If any of this resonates with you, please give me a call at 323-999-1537, or shoot me an email at and we will set up a time for a free 20 minute consultation, either on the phone or in my office, whichever you prefer.