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11 Steps to a Meaningful Apology

Image of multicolored flowers in a bouquet. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, Apology, Katherine Broadway

Suppose you and a friend had a disagreement and left feeling misunderstood and angry. After having time to calm down, you reflect on the interaction. You realize that you are the one who overstepped the situation and hurt your friend’s feeling.

Your first thought is to let things calm down, and the situation will fade into the distance. All will be forgotten, and you can move on without having to address the situation. To apologize will only remind him of the hurt and stir up the incident again.

A few days later, you may find that you are still replaying the situation in your head. Maybe your friend is over it, but this means you clearly are not. You must take action to resolve the situation so that you can let it go.


Apologies are hard and stir up so many feelings, both past and present. You do not want to do it! You ask yourself if you really must do it. The answer, of course, is that you must.

Now that an apology is in order, you have no idea how to begin. You might be feeling embarrassed, or even scared. It is helpful to have a process to follow. Here are 10 steps that can help. If you take the time to think them through and write down your thoughts, you should be able to craft an apology that will be graceful and meaningful.


1. Take responsibility for what you have done, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

2. Make specific reference to your behavior. Use the first person. “I am sorry I was impatient when we were talking.” Not: “I am sorry you were hurt.” Worse yet: “I am sorry I got impatient when it took you so long to tell your story.”

3. Acknowledge the impact of what you did. “When I was late, it was disrespectful of your time.”

4. Be real, open and not defensive. “When I looked away and did not listen to you, I was being rude and unkind. I am sad that I treated you that way.”

5. If it is appropriate, a very, very short explanation may help. Do not use it to justify your behavior. “I did not get enough sleep last night, yet that is not an excuse for my rude behavior.” There is a big difference between a short explanation and an excuse. An explanation gives a back story that explains your behavior without letting you off the hook.

6. Never follow “I’m sorry” with a reason why you think they over reacted to your behavior. That is like giving someone a gift and taking it back because they don’t deserve it.

7. At this point, it would be a good idea to write out the apology you want to make before saying to your friend. Write it out, read it, know it, and own it.

8. When you are ready, deliver the apology. Then close your mouth.

9. This is the time to let the other person have their say. Your role is to listen and absorb what they are saying. No matter how uncomfortable it is for you, listen.

10. Most people will accept an apology when it is given thoughtfully. Say “Thank you.” If the other person is short and unresponsive, do not continue to try to get them to feel better. Your friend’s continued anger may be a consequence of your words and actions. Remember getting over being hurt takes time, even with an apology. Appreciate the fact that your friend is being honest and not pretending everything is alright when it isn’t.

11. Make amends if at all possible. That can mean actions that help your friend. It can also mean taking time to learn more about yourself and why you behaved the way you did. If you offended someone, learn more about why so that you can deepen your understanding of the roots of your behavior. This will help you in the future.

When we make apologies in an effective way, it is possible to build trust and become closer. We all make mistakes, behave badly and hurt others. What is important is how we respond when this happens.

Looking at the situation from the other person’s position and taking responsibility, can help you grow. Saying you’re sorry, with action, can lead to a greater understanding of ourselves and those who are closest to us.

Are you in a situation where you feel you need to resolve a conflict and are not sure how to do it? Talking to someone can help you clarify what you need to do. I would like to help you. Call me at (919) 881-2001.

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