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Why do most apologies feel unsatisfactory?Anatomy of an apology




“Do you want me to apologize?”

“I am sorry IF I hurt you”

“You want me to say sorry? Sorry, now are you happy?”

“I am sorry but…” (an explanation follows)


Why do most apologies fall short? Why do some apologies don’t feel like an apology?


If you have been feeling violated by someone’s words or actions, you would like them to apologize, If they are in the wrong, you would like to hear them say it. If someone apologizes with sincerity for many of the transgression, it repairs the damage to the relationship.


When someone asks you if you need an apology it somehow conveys the idea to us that they feel they did not do any wrong and will apologize only because we are demanding one. Now that kind of apology does not feel sincere. If they are apologizing then they are doing it for form sake and without any sincerity.

The same thing goes for apologies which start with, “I am sorry IF I hurt you”. So you don’t know if you have hurt me? You don’t know/think your behaviour was inappropriate? Your apology should be for your behaviour not how it made me feel. If your behaviour was inappropriate you should apologize for that behaviour. That is what is expected. Your apology cannot be conditional on my being hurt or not.

Then follows the classic of all apologies, “I am sorry but you know why I said/did……” These kinds of apologies again don’t sound sincere to us. The moment the word ‘BUT’ is added to an apology, it takes away the healing power of an apology. Your reasons can come later when the mood is different. By giving reasons along with the apology you are justifying your actions hence the apology loses its healing touch.

A true apology whose intentions are to repair the damage caused should be sincere. “I did this. I am sorry I did this”. No ifs and buts. State the bad behaviour and apologize for that. Period.

Secondly, there needs to be a reassurance that the behaviour is not going to get repeated. The apology you have rendered is for past actions and the reassurance you are giving is for future behaviour. “This won’t happen again”, “I won't’ talk like this again” “There will be no repeat of this from my side” are some of the commitments one can make to render the apology stronger.


If the offence has been major then further repair can be done by offering to make up for the damage caused. “Let me know how I can make it up to you”, “Tell me how I can repair the damage” “How do I compensate for my mistake”. Essentially for damages that have been deeper or greater, you are offering real-life practical compensation. This is a form of restorative justice.


For most mistakes that we make the first two - a sincere apology and a future commitment are enough. Only for deeper damages, the third one is needed. An apology done this way feels sincere and true from the heart.

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