The ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of making a sincere apology

by Fran Creffield - December 19, 2013

Knowing how to apologise is an important aspect of good communication which many of us have never learned. Apologising is an art so here’s a quick guide to help raise awareness of where an apology often goes wrong and how to make it sincere.

We will sometimes make mistakes and hurt each other’s feelings even in the happiest of relationships. The ability to move past difficulties is the difference between those relationships that stand the test of time and those that fall at the first hurdle.


  • Wait until you’re clear about what you’ve done wrong before you apologise.
  • State clearly what it is you’re apologising for
  • Take full responsibility. Own the mistake as your own without blaming anyone else (especially the person you’re apologising to) or presenting mitigating circumstances
  • Apologise in person if at all possible
  • Plan what you are going to say
  • Be clear in your language and show that you understand and appreciate their hurt feelings
  • Allow time for tempers to cool before trying to apologise
  • Admit that you were wrong emphatically, unreservedly, and as soon as possible.
  • State why you want to repair your relationship with the person
  • Think about what caused you to make the offense and tell the other person as an explanation rather than an excuse
  • Clearly request forgiveness but don’t assume it’s your right because you’re apologising
  • Offer to make amends – if you aren’t sure how ask the other person if there’s anything you can do to repair any damage done
  • State what action you will take to ensure you don’t make the same mistake again
  • Stick to your word. A sincere apology entails a resolution, and you have to carry out your promise in order for the apology to be sincere and complete otherwise, your apologies will lose their meaning, and trust will be lost
  • Remember that an apology with an excuse is not an apology
  • Bear in mind ITS NOT ABOUT YOU, an apology is about helping the other person to feel better, not you
  • Do end your apology with gratitude. Express your appreciations for the role that this person plays in your life, emphasizing that you do not want to lose,  jeopardize or damage the relationship.
  • Be honest if there are underlying problems which are affecting your behaviour and treatment of your partner


  • Ever begin with ‘I don’t know what I’ve done wrong but ….’
  • Use the words ‘if’ or ‘but’, “I am sorry, if/ but…” means “I’m not really sorry”
  • Get angry if the other person won’t accept your apology or continues to have hurt feelings after you’ve apologised
  • Use the term “please forgive me” as a path to avoid responsibility
  • Justify your actions
  • Write long explanations as to why you did what you did. It could come across as self-serving.
  • Apologise if you really don’t think you have done anything wrong
  • Offer an incomplete apology – it’s more like an insult as it implies that you don’t see the other person’s pain as valid
  • Send an email or text apology if you’re able to apologise in person
  • Use an apology as a means of manipulation
  • Retract your apology if the other person doesn’t accept it
  • Bring in other events that have nothing to do with the current situation
  • Imply that the other person is in any way to blame for your bad behaviour
  • Expect the other person to reward you after you have apologized. This is not about you; it’s about the other person.
  • Look irritated during your apology. This will make the other person think you’re only apologizing because you have to, and you don’t mean it
  • If your apology isn’t accepted immediately DO NOT say “I said I was sorry what else do you want?” They may need time to heal.
  • Try to be cute or make jokes to “lighten” things up. An apology requires complete seriousness and respect to the other person and a light hearted approach could insult them further.
  • Don’t dwell on the apology or any of the other issues connected to it, whether or not you’ve been forgiven.
  • Finally don’t follow the acceptance of your apology with additional explanations, qualifiers or caveats. Move on!