9 Ways You Secretly Sabotage Your Apology When You Say Sorry
Slipped up? Before you apologize, make sure your words will feel sincere.
You say “if” instead of “that”
Saying “I’m sorry if I hurt you” instead of “I’m sorry that I hurt you” can be insulting because it implies the other person was wrong to want an apology, says linguist Edwin Battistella, PhD, author of Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology. “It means that the person who’s been harmed has to make the decision if they really want to be apologized to or not,” Battistella says. Here’s the real reason men apologize less than women do.
You don’t state what you did wrong
Talking around your wrongdoing—instead of directly fessing up to your mistake—might indicate you don’t take full responsibility for your actions. “Say ‘I’m sorry I lost your book,’ not ‘I’m sorry your book got lost,’” Battistella says. If you’re open to admitting your mistake, your regrets will seem more sincere.
You don’t ask for forgiveness
While you might assume saying you’re sorry implies you want forgiveness, the other person might think a lack of that request means you don’t value the relationship. “For some people, requesting forgiveness is what they consider an apology, and if you don’t ask, it doesn’t seem sincere,” says relationship counselor Gary Chapman, author of When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love. Prevent an apology in the first place: These psychology tricks can diffuse a fight.
You stick with the words “I’m sorry”
“‘Sorry’ can indicate a state of sorrowfulness and lamenting with that person—like ‘I’m sorry for the rain,’” Battistella says. Similarly, “I regret” sounds like an impersonal rejection letter—not a heartfelt apology, he says. On the other hand, “I apologize for” is a strong, straightforward way to express that you’re sorry.
You say you take full responsibility
Just because you’re taking the blame doesn’t mean that you’ve acknowledged you were the one who did something wrong, Battistella says. “It’s OK to say you take full responsibility if you already apologized, but if you say that instead of an apology, it can come off as cheating your apology,” he says. Make sure to admit how you’re at fault and clearly state that you’re sorry.
You justify your actions
To defend their reputations, some people talk about how their offense doesn’t match their character—“It’s so not like me to forget about our coffee date”—or why their mistake isn’t what it seems, Battistella says. But these defense mechanisms weaken the apology. “It’s best to get right to your apology and then shut up,” Battistella says. Once you start explaining yourself, you might start to contradict your apology and undermine the regrets you’re trying to express.
Your apology is only verbal
Sometimes showing you’re sorry requires actions to back up your words, whether by offering a way to make up for the offense or saying you want to change, Chapman says. “Always have an idea of what you can do to offer restitution,” he says. “If you don’t express the desire to change your behavior, in their mind you’re not sincere.” One of the worst ways to apologize? Over text message.
You apologize out of obligation
Don’t apologize if you don’t think you’re in the wrong. Being too quick to say sorry might lead to a poor apology that just makes matters worse. “Apologies are a powerful way of healing relationships, but if you use them casually or poorly, you can harm them,” Battistella says. Be open to talking about issues with people who feel you’ve hurt them, but don’t make an apology until it’s genuine.