Three Essential Elements of an Actual Apology

There are a lot of statements floating around these days masquerading as apologies. From politicians to celebrities to news anchors to the guy next door. A lot of people are saying that they are sorry in ways that make us all pretty sure they don’t mean it at all.

To help cut through the apology clutter, here are the three key elements to include (or look for) in a genuine apology:

Own it.

Take full responsibility. Maybe other people or things really did come in to play, but this is your apology, let other people worry about their own. Don’t offer any excuses. Just an “I really blew it” or “I totally screwed up” is all you need. And don’t lay the blame on the person to whom you are apologizing. “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt” is not the same as “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” See the difference?  This was you. Your slip up. Your screw up. Whether you intended harm or were just being an idiot, own it.

Acknowledge Wrongdoing 

Nothing dilutes an apology like owning what you did, and then acting like it’s really no big deal. A real apology has to include admission that what you did was, indeed, wrong. If you don’t think you did anything wrong, then you’re not really sorry.  And if you find yourself apologizing often and never really believing that you’re in the wrong, guess what? It’s time for some serious self-reflection, my friend.

Take Action

If there is a way to right the wrong, this is where you should do that. All too often, we can’t fix what we’ve broken, but we can make sure we don’t cause more damage. What are the steps you will take to make sure this offense doesn’t happen again? Make a note in your calendar?  Read a book? Take a class? Go to rehab? Retreat to an ashram? Make a coffee date to talk through it with a friend? It could be as simple as assuring the offended party that you won’t let it happen again or that you’ll choose a different path the next time a similar situation occurs. Being truly sorry means that you will take steps to not become repeat offender. 

The next time you need to apologize, do it right.  It may not a cure-all or a magic fix, but a genuine apology soothes the soul of both the offender and the offendee.





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