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13 Components of an Effective Apology: When A Sorry Isn’t Enough

What makes an effective apology? Does a simple ‘Sorry’ always work? What to do when a sorry just isn’t enough. 

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“In this life, when you deny someone an apology,
you will remember it at the time you beg forgiveness.”

This is the caption on a poster of the spiritual teacher, Swami Satchidananda who is pictured wearing a loincloth while crouching on a surfboard riding the ocean waves. It’s a profound reminder that no matter how hard we try, sometimes we will make mistakes. Life brings us trouble at times, and we inadvertently make trouble for ourselves. It can’t be helped.

“Learning to surf” is a metaphor for becoming adept at handling life’s difficulties and successfully repairing errors or mistakes that we may have made.

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Since we are all (no exceptions) mistake-prone, to varying degrees, it behooves us to become adept in the art of making effective repairs and corrections. We should, of course, by all means, make our best effort to do it “right” the first time, but being human, our best efforts won’t always prevent us from having moments or days when we wish that we could do that one over again. Since we can’t always do “do-overs,” the next best thing is to correct our mistakes, and the best way to start this process is with an apology.

Making an effective apology is both an art and a science. It requires the fulfillment of a number of conditions that must be met in order for both parties to feel satisfied with the outcome. The first thing to keep in mind is exactly that. That is, that both parties must feel complete and satisfied with the outcome in order for things to get back on track after the breakdown.


There are a number of components that increase the likelihood that an apology will be effective. These conditions and guidelines apply to all relationships. We have listed a few of them here.

13 Components of an Effective Apology

1. Sincerity:

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Make sure that your apology is heartfelt. The word “sincere” means “clean, pure, free from falsehood or pretense.” Don’t bother saying anything until you can really mean it and deliver your message from the heart.


2. Timing:

Timing is important in terms of the other person’s readiness to receive your apology. If he or she is still too hurt or upset angry, allow some time for the other person to be able to absorb what you are offering.


3. Intentionality:

Don’t use an apology manipulatively to shut another person up or get him or her off your back. Check your intention to make sure that you really are committed to healing the breakdown.

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” ― Benjamin Franklin

4. Vulnerability:

Try not to indulge in rationalizations or justifications. Disarming yourself of any defensiveness is designed to make you right or the other person wrong.


5. Vision:

Hold a vision of what you see coming as a result of your willingness to respectfully participate in a dialogue that is intended to promote greater trust and goodwill in your relationship


6. Be specific:

Avoid vague generalizations and specify exactly what it is that you do regret having done or said that may have caused the other person’s pain or injury. Also, the statement, “I’m sorry that you feel that way,” is not a statement of apology.


7. Responsibility:

Admit that you made an unskillful choice (for example, broke an agreement, made a hurtful remark, had a threatening or condescending tone in your voice). Acknowledge your transgression without defending your actions.

“Any good apology has 3 parts: 1)I’m sorry 2)It’s my fault 3)What can I do to make it right? Most people forget the third part.”


8. One may not be enough:

Although a one-time sincere apology may sometimes be enough to get to completion, serious wounds, sometimes require multiple apologies.


9. Make amends:

Make an effort to clear up the damage your words or actions may have caused and do your best to restore things to the condition that they were in prior to the breakdown.

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Linda and Charlie Bloom
Linda Bloom, LCSW and Charlie Bloom, MSW have been trained as psychotherapists and relationship counselors and have worked with individuals, couples, groups, and organizations since 1975. They have lectured and taught at universities and learning institutes throughout the USA, including the Esalen Institute, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, 1440 Multiversity, and many others.  They have taught seminars in many countries throughout the world. They have co-authored four books, 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last, Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth From Real Couples About Lasting Love, Happily Ever After And 39 Other Myths About Love, and That Which Doesn't Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places. They have been married since 1972 and are the parents of two adult children and three grandsons. Linda and Charlie live in Santa Cruz, California. Their website is
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