Seven Easy Rules For Using An Apology

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How often do we apologize? How often do we hear someone apologize? Do you ever wonder if an apology is even necessary? Our interactions with others are filled with reasons to rationalize our actions, even apologize for inappropriate behavior or mistakes made. But what is the purpose of an apology, and is it overused?

According to Merriam Webster, an apology may consist of three things:

  1. An admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret, such as a public apology. This can also be expression of regret for not being able to do something.
  2. Something that is said or written to defend something that other people criticize, such as this book is an apology for racism. 
  3. Informal: a poor substitute or example, such as they’re a poor apology for an employee. 

Understanding the actual definition of a word can be useful to accurately apply it to your lives. Now when we hear or use an apology, we can place it in appropriate context based on the situation.

However, this does not take way from the countless times we have witnessed an apology that is not sincere, offered an apology that is half-hearted, or not apologized at all when in fact, we should. We need to dig a little deeper to the function of an apology to determine methods to improve its use in our everyday lives.


  1. When you have wronged another person or situation. The most common use of an apology is to right a situation or behavior, and this is appropriate as long as it is sincere. Much too often, this type of apology is offered to simply keep the peace, with a lack of serious desire to repair the wrong. Be sure that you are apologizing for poor behavior and choices, and then diligently work toward making better decisions in your future. An apology is worthless if you will continue to do the same thing and offend someone tomorrow. 
  2. When you may be expressing empathy or sympathy toward another. Being empathetic is a strong form of compassion and is valuable for our relationships. When someone has passed away, unforeseen and unexplainable harm is done toward another person, and when we know someone is going through a difficult season, we want to show that we care. We then say, “I’m sorry for what you are going through,” and this is our best way of telling them that if we could fix their challenges, we would. Once again, we must be sure that our empathy or sympathy is shared with sincerity. We also have to be careful to not show pity toward others, as this can be offensive to them. This apology requires a fine balance.
  3. Explaining your character and who you are. “I’m sorry, but this is just who I am,” is not a valid apology. Think about it. What are you really apologizing for? Are you apologizing for who you are as a person? Or are you apologizing because someone doesn’t think the same way you do? Regardless of the rationale for using this kind of apology, it is time to stop. Just say who you are and be confident. The character apology is often a buffer to avoid saying what we really want to say or address conflict. We are better off simply stating our thoughts and having proper dialogue with an open mind to the thoughts of others. Who said we always have to agreed with each other? We can respectfully agree to disagree and continue living.
  4. Justifying beliefs, opinions, values, or upbringing. Similar to the character apology, this is another unstable apology. Unless you are apologizing for current beliefs, opinions, values, or your upbringing, that you are currently trying to change or improve, this apology is conflict-avoidance. If you believe something to be true, and have knowledge or awareness to support it, then so be it. Do not be one of those people who try to impose biased values on others, know your stuff. Your opinions are yours, and there is no need to justify them. We tend to offer way too much explanation regarding these areas of our lives. We need to allow our “yes” to be just yes, and our “no” to be just no. When we apologize for the way we were raised or our values system, this does nobody any good. It is a form of justification and avoids the real issue. Practice being confident in your stance, whatever that may be.

Apologies should not be carelessly applied in our interactions. We should never use them to simply keep the peace or to avoid conflict. There are many times in our lives where our apology is not necessary, and other actions may be more appropriate. Communication is essential in all that we do, and imperative to have healthy relationships. Instead of apologizing when it appears necessary, begin to assess if you are truly sorry for your behavior or action, or expressing empathy or sympathy toward others. If these factors are not the premise for your apology, it may not be useful at all. We need to figure out how to handle conflicts in positive ways, not avoiding them or pacifying others with our apologies.

Most of all, use apologies with a sincere motive. Offer an apology as if you are the person receiving it. 


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