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How to Apologize

Seven Rules on How to Apologize

By Chris Jordan

A letter to my children, in hopes that they will learn from my words.

You will have to apologize more times in your life than you can even imagine.  Yes, when you are young you will think that you could never possibly be wrong.  But you will be.  Oh how you will be. You will do things for which you are ashamed.  You will hurt the people who are closest to you.  You will say words you wish you could take back.  Inevitably, there will be friendships that will be irreparably fractured.  It happens to all of us.  It is called being human.

It seems like apologizing would be something easy to do, but it isn’t.  So just how do you apologize?  I have compiled some rules for you to follow.

Rule #1:
Resist the urge to use the word “but.”  You will want to.  You will want to explain your actions or your words, whatever it is that has caused the other person pain; don’t do it.  The word “but” negates all the words that came before it.

Rule #2:
Apologize for your actions.  Take responsibility for whatever it is you have done.  Even if you think that the other person has some fault in the argument, apologize for your part.

Rule #3:
The most important thing is to be sincere.  Look the person in the eye.  Don’t give a half-hearted apology and say something like “I am sorry you got upset when I…”   A half-assed apology is worse than none at all.  Because not only are you not offering up an apology for what you did wrong, you are telling the other person that they had no right to get upset.

Rule #4:
Do not text your apology.  Do not email it. For the love of all things holy, do not post it on Facebook. Give the person your apology in person, or if that is not possible, over the phone.

Rule #5:
Offer reparations.   Make it right if possible.  Show the person in a meaningful way that you are truly sorry.

Rule #6:
Let it go. All you can do is apologize.  You can’t make a person forgive you.  There will be times when an apology just isn’t enough and the relationship will end.  It is in those moments that you should learn from your mistakes and not repeat them.

Rule #7:
You should  realize that as much as you will have to apologize, others will have to apologize to you.  Be gracious.  Offer forgiveness. Sometimes you will find yourself overly invested in hanging onto your anger and enumerating the ways that you have been wronged.  That is precisely the time you should do some self-examination.


Your Mother, who wishes she didn’t have to learn these rules the hard way

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Jen

    April 23, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Well said! I have heard many apologies that go against your rules and they are certainly not effective. I will share this with my son, but feel that we can all use this reminder. Thank you for your wise words.

  • Alecia @ Hoobing Family Adventures

    April 24, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Those are really great rules!  

  • Becky

    April 25, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I think I’m actually going to send this along to my team at work. It’s all very applicable to everyday life, not just to your kids. If more people in the work place adopted this line of thinking when mistakes are made, instead of playing the stupid blame game, so much more would be accomplished, and amongst people who get along better. Thanks for this Chris!!

  • Julie

    April 25, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Great post! I love this, and know that I should print this out and carry it in my wallet for a reminder every once in a while. Gah…sometimes is is SO HARD to admit you were wrong and to suck it up and take the blame, but…the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

  • Karen S. Elliott

    April 25, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Love this.

  • Zoot

    April 25, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    I say often that the most valuable lesson my Dad taught me was the value of a sincere apology because he would offer them to us when he felt he made parenting errors. This entry is spot on.

  • PastormacsAnn

    April 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    This is great, Chris. Really great.  

  • Julie

    April 27, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Great post!  So SO true.  At our house the format for an apology is “I did it, it hurt you, I’m sorry, how can I fix it?”  A sincere apology has to have all four parts: take responsibility for the action and the effect and then express regret and offer to help.  

  • Cy

    April 27, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    I’m sorry I didn’t like this. Just Kidding! It was swell!

  • Shannon

    April 28, 2011 at 9:32 am

    This is so good, Chris! I don’t know how you articulate things so well. It’s perfect. And, of course, we can all benefit from these reminders.

  • s

    April 28, 2011 at 9:39 am

    I’d add also to make the apology sooner than later. I made a bad mistake at work years and years ago and it was so hard to walk that hallway and apologize for what I did to someone I clearly didn’t like nor did she like me, but we had to work together and my actions were wrong. One of the things she later told me was that she really did appreciate how quickly I did come to her and apologize vs waiting for her to approach me angrily or hear from someone else. So right the wrong as soon as you can, as long as you are able to keep your composure (ie if its something you are angry about, calm down first). I learned from my mistake and it was truly a hard hard lesson. Great lessons above!

  • elizabethk

    April 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Beautifully written!  What a gift you are to your children!

  • angela michelle

    April 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    I always tell my kids that  a real apology includes a “for.” As in, “I’m sorry FOR messing up your room” rather than just a vague, “Sorry.”

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  • chris cole

    April 27, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Me and my son who is 17 got into an altercation..he started it by disrespecting me but I came at him first and I feel stupid for that but he said he expect s me to apologize before he moves back home…but he has been so disrespectful to me I am not above apologizing to him just dont know what to do ..

  • Alexis

    January 6, 2015 at 7:24 am

    What if it’s sayin sorry to your Mother In Law?

  • Andrew sallu kaikai

    January 7, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    I will never forget what I have learn from this site! An Apology is the best policy!

  • Sheri

    February 7, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Well I have a sister that told me I was dead to her. She called me the B word. Told me one character on my fav tv show was getting killed off. Never apologized for any of it and yet my mom defends this after I was called B I called her a C she wants an apology mom said she only called you a B any advice????? Shes 42 Im 48

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