What's a Sincere Apology?

Posted on

What makes a proper apology? How does a person convey their thoughts and regrets appropriately for actions or statements that hurt a friend, loved-one or even an acquaintance? With a past article, I did discuss apologies that stemmed from insincerity yet; I wanted to elaborate further because even a person doing their best can harm another inadvertently or not. So, I’m going to outline several things that you may want to keep in mind the next you have to make amends.

The first component to an apology is sincerity. If you aren’t going to be sincere then saying sorry can seem hollow. How does a person convey sincerity? They can showcase that by evaluating a circumstance that injured another party, and taking accountability for that.

For example, say you step on someone’s foot. Taking accountability for that is, sorry I stepped on your foot. You note the action that you did and then apologize for that misstep. Not taking responsibility for that is, “Watch where you’re going.”

That abdicates responsibility and blames the other person. Sure, this sounds like a simple premise, and it is, and sure you’d apologize if you stepped on someone’s foot, but this can also apply to other scenarios if you pause and recall “If I stepped on their foot, I’d apologize.”

Going along with the first component is the second one. Timing. Sometimes you can hurt someone, and immediately you want to apologize, and the other party isn’t receptive. Forcing that situation isn’t likely to reach an amicable conclusion. Instead, it can escalate tensions, even pushing you on the defensive.

“I apologized, but they aren’t listening to it!”

It’s important to give a person space to calm down. Yes, it’s tough to see because you want to resolve the situation as quickly as possible because you didn’t mean what you said or did.

Discerning how much time to give a person varies, but if a person isn’t talking to you right after the offense, then backing off for a little while and re-engaging with that person, later on, can have more fruitful results.

Now, I’m going to tackle a cliche that can sour an attempt at an apology. It sounds well-meaning, and your intentions may be great ones, but often, it sounds like you aren’t taking accountability.

This common phrase is: “I’m sorry if I offended you.”

It looks like an apology. It mentions the other party, so it must be a polite phrase, right? Not really. Both parties are referred, however, responsibility for the offense is aimed at the offended rather than the offender. So, perhaps you can think of a time where you have said this, and it didn’t go over well. Maybe someone has even said the phrase to you, and you got an impression that they didn’t mean it.

A solution to replace that cliche is, I’m sorry for *insert action here.* I can see that it hurt you. It wasn’t my intention to do that, but I will take accountability *mention the offense here* because it did hurt you. I apologize.

This example puts all of the accountability on the offender, not the offended. Granted, I won’t say this is the only way to apologize, this is something that’s worked for me because it makes my intention clear to the other person.

Finally, I’m drawing from my own life experiences with my comments. This blog post is by no means the only way to address grievances. And my intention is also not to patronize either, only to present a few ideas.

Intent matters but how you convey that intent is also important, and both of those have to coincide for an amicable resolution.


Ziggy is a Certified Peer Specialist in PA and currently resides in Pittsburgh. He is a member of the Let’s Act committee, a group of peers devoted to raising awareness about mental health care. In his downtime, he enjoys reading novels and watching nature documentaries.

View all posts