How To Give an Effective Apology

When trying to rebuild trust—it helps to give the right type of apology at the right time.

Unfortunately, most people do not know how to apologize or say "I am sorry."

Typically, people make the mistake of apologizing too quickly. People say "I am sorry" at the moment they are caught in a lie or caught doing something wrong. Apologizing too quickly—especially when in trouble often comes across as being insincere.

It looks like you are saying "I’m sorry" as a means of appeasing a partner. It does not come across a thoughtful or meaningful gesture. Rather it looks like you are simply trying to protect yourself from harm.

Apologies work best when given after some thought and consideration. Especially, after you have made your partner feel understood—that is, after you explicitly acknowledge how your partner’s feelings have been hurt.

Giving the right type of apology is also important. Often people apologize and then immediately offer an excuse ("I am sorry, BUT..."). Tying an excuse or explanation to an apology tends to take away from its impact.

The best way to apologize is to say you are sorry for the harm you have done and leave it at that ("I am sorry I hurt you by... I was wrong."). It is best to let an apology stand on its own.

It is ok to offer an explanation, but only when one is asked for (see next step).

Saying "I am sorry" at the right moment and in the right way is important because it leads to (see Cupach & Metts)...

  • more forgiveness
  • more good will
  • greater intimacy
  • less punishment
  • and greater trust