The Power of a Sincere Apology

Today is Friday, so this post is on interpersonal competence.

Several years ago, I read an article in Oprah Winfrey’s magazine by Martha Beck called Always Apologize, Always Explain.  I went looking for it on line as I was beginning to write this post.  Ms. Beck has some great common sense advice on the importance of apologies to building strong relationships.  And building strong relationships, along with understanding yourself and resolving conflict in a positive manner, is key to becoming an interpersonally competent person.

Below, I’ve highlighted Ms. Beck’s four points for how to apologize.

Fully acknowledge your offense — Start by describing exactly what you did wrong.  Admit the worst truths. Once the facts are out, acknowledge that your behavior violated your moral code. It doesn’t matter whether you and other person share the same ethics.  If you’ve broken your own rules, you’re in the wrong. Accept responsibility.

An explanation — A truthful explanation of your behavior is your best shot at rebuilding a strong, peaceful relationship.  This is the key to changing for the better. Explanations help you and the other person understand why you acted as you did, and assure both of you that the offense won’t recur. Excuses merely deflect responsibility. Leave them out of your apology.

Genuine expression of remorse — Anyone who has been on the receiving end of the comment “I’m sorry you feel that way” knows the difference between sincere regret and an attempt to avoid responsibility for bad behavior. An apology without remorse isn’t going to get the other person to forgive you, and allow you to begin repairing the damage to your relationship

Reparations for damage — An apology includes real repair work: not just saying “I’m sorry.” Often there will be nothing tangible to repair; hearts and relationships are broken more often than physical objects. In such cases, your efforts should focus on restoring the other person’s dignity. The question “What else do you want me to do?” can start this process. If you ask it sincerely, really listen to the answer and act on the other party’s suggestions, you’ll be honoring their feelings, perspective and experience. This can mend even seemingly irreparable wounds.

When you really apologize, you should feel good about yourself. An effective apology is, “an act of honesty, an act of humility, an act of commitment, an act of generosity, and an act of courage.”
But there’s no guarantee that the other person involved will accept your apology. The final gallant act of apology is to release the other person from any expectation of forgiveness. No matter how noble you have been, he or she will forgive — or refuse to forgive — on his or her own terms. That is his or her right.

This is great common sense advice.  I once found myself in a situation where I had repeated a rumor about another person.  A third party told him.  I was embarrassed.  The next day, I got together with the two of them and apologized.  They both said, “You don’t need to do this.”  I said “Yes I do.  I was really wrong to repeat a rumor.  I’m not that kind of person, and I have really wronged both of you.  I hope that you accept my most sincere apologies.” 

There was an uncomfortable silence in the room.  Both people said they forgave me.  Interestingly, the person about whom I had repeated the rumor has become one of my best friends and clients.  I doubt that this would have happened if I had not owned up to violating my own “moral code”, as Ms. Beck says.  Even if we didn’t become good friends, I still would have been glad I apologized, because I felt better about myself.

The common sense point for today is simple.  Apologize when you are wrong – for the other person’s sake; but more importantly, for your own.

You can read the full text of Martha Beck’s article, “Always Apologize, Always Explain,” at

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website to subscribe to my monthly ezine and for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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