How To Make An Authentic Apology

A recent study found that only 18 percent of couples were satisfied with their level of communication during the pandemic. Other surveys find similar numbers for non-romantic relationships. Are you surprised?

We are inundated with stress: health concerns for ourselves and others, economic concerns, stuck indoors, societal divisions and paranoia, civil unrest, and a general fear of the unknown. This is a recipe for conflict and misunderstanding.

We cannot control how the rest of 2020 plays out, but we can control our part in it. This means accepting those seemingly inevitable moments when we will be in a position to either receive or deliver a sincere, heartfelt apology.

The 4 Elements of an Authentic Apology

Request Permission to Apologize

This is the forgotten first step. Regardless of how severe (or not) you perceive your transgression to be, you do not have agency when it comes to forgiveness. The wronged person has every right to reject any apology attempt until they are ready.

Imagine your first public statement being something like this: “I did something very wrong and, for starters, I’d like to apologize for it.”

Take Full Responsibility: Show Remorse

“I’m sorry you feel that way” is not remorseful. You don’t apologize for someone else’s feelings. “If anyone was offended, I apologize”? Again: zero contrition. Hold yourself accountable. Let them know that you realize you hurt them. Show regret. Express guilt. Clearly articulate why you are apologizing.

Imagine your second statement being something like this: “I did [insert unambiguous details here]. I recognize that I’ve hurt someone. I feel guilt, shame, and remorse but I have no one to blame except myself.”

No Excuses: Promise to Make Amends and That You Won’t Do it Again 

It’s time to put your remorse into an actionable context. That means NO excuses. Communicate with the wronged person to learn how you can best make amends for your affront. Make up for a mistake and do the work to be certain it does not re-occur. Display your remorse in word and deed.

Imagine your third statement being something like this: “I behaved terribly. I make no excuses for this choice. Instead, I will seek input on how to make amends. I will also live up to my promise that it will never happen again.”

Formally Ask for Forgiveness 

Like step #1, this one is often neglected. But forgiveness is a dialogue. After the first three steps have been satisfactorily completed, do not assume you’ve automatically been forgiven. Ask for forgiveness and be ready to enter into an open discussion of what that means. Be aware that it doesn’t always mean a reconciliation is imminent.

Imagine your fourth statement being something like this: “I take full responsibility for my behavior. I apologize to whoever I hurt and whoever I let down. I promise to make amends and do the work to never do it again, and I ask all those involved for forgiveness — if they are willing to grant it.”

And speaking of forgiveness. With conflict on the rise and emotions in turmoil, you may also find yourself on the other end of an apology. Pro tip: That part of the process is not as simple as saying “fine” or “it’s okay.”

5 Ways to Be a Forgiving Person

Understand It

Forgiving someone is not the same as condoning their actions. It also doesn’t mean things will or even can return to where they were. Forgiveness is your way to release yourself (and possibly others) from the unhealthy burden of anger and resentment.

Honor What You Feel

If you’ve been hurt, let yourself feel that pain. As the victim, you must work through this process before you can calmly address apologies and forgiveness.

Choose Your Words and Actions Wisely

Resist the urge to speak disparagingly to others about the person who hurt you. Perhaps more importantly, reject any thoughts of revenge. To be in the position to forgive requires us to eschew behaviors that stem from our reflexive urges.

Operate From a Place of Humility

How many times in your life have you messed up and had to face the music? How many more times will something like occur? Keep this in mind when interacting with any person who has crossed you. Again, you don’t have to condone their actions but you can hold space to understand and forgive them.

Release the Need For Blame

An authentic apology has been offered. You have opted to accept it and forgive the other person. Now…let it go. The time for blame has passed. In fact, if you find yourself still holding a grudge, it is quite possible you’re the one who needs to do some serious introspection.

Identify What You Can Control

Tempers may be getting shorter but there is so much solace to be found in taking stock of what is and isn’t under your control. Other people are going to do whatever they choose to do. This has the potential to create disagreements and strife — and there’s virtually nothing you can do to prevent it. Your power lies almost solely in how you react.

If it’s you who caused the problem, your course is clear. Ditch the defensiveness and the deflections. After some introspection, own up to the transgression and provide an authentic apology. If you’re the one who has been wronged, trade blame and resentment for a forgiving heart. There is no magic formula that prevents interpersonal issues. But these are the steps that can help you accept them, manage them, learn from them, and rise above them.

-Mickey Z

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood (

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2 comments on “How To Make An Authentic Apology

  1. On point

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