404 How To Apologize Well

How To Apologize Well

“Forgiveness is more than saying sorry.” – Anna Faris in Just Friends

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a terrible apology? I have plenty of times. The other person may as well have saved their breath. Nobody wants an apology given under obligation.

But the chances are that you’ve given some pretty bad apologies yourself. You’ve seen the flash of anger or hurt across someone’s face and unconsciously blurted out “I’m sorry!”

The problem is that simply saying “I’m sorry” is a terrible apology. 

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with those two words. It’s that they can either mean everything or nothing based on your motivation. It can be interpreted in various ways, such as:

  • I’m sorry you feel that I’m wrong…because I’m not.
  • I’m sorry you’re so emotional about this.
  • I’m sorry I got caught.

When we’re wronged, we want more than a trite “I’m sorry”. When someone says they feel sorry, it doesn’t make us feel better. It just lets us know they aren’t an emotionless zombie.

The best thing you can do when you are wrong is not to feel guilty but to take ownership.

Rather than using those two words, start with 3.

I was wrong.

This is a much more authentic way to apologize. When you start with “I was wrong” and you provide specifics, there can be no misunderstanding in your apology.

You’re also not trying to be let off the hook right away. Some people feel that when they say “I’m sorry,” they should be forgiven immediately. But when you simply own your mistake, the other person isn’t obligated to immediately give out insincere forgiveness. You give them the time to process at their own pace.

We’re all going to make mistakes, some bigger than others. If we can learn to apologize well, we will become better at resolving conflict. There’s nothing worse than when bitterness and resentment build in relationships due to offense. Especially when it can be resolved with better communication.

There’s a quote that says “love means never having to say you’re sorry”. I’d agree with that as long as love is never too prideful to say “I was wrong“.

What do you think?
Do you prefer someone saying “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong”?


  1. For me the true apologize is very hard to do. However, you will find way that you can apologize to a certain person that is true to your heart.
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  2. Personally when I’ve wronged someone I take a more old fashioned approach. Rather than “my bad” or even “I’m sorry” I say “please forgive me” and that usually starts with an I was wrong.

    • I think sometimes we have to be careful with that one too. Especially if the offense is really big. If we have the temptation to immediately ask for forgiveness, we don’t give the other person time to process what happened and how they feel before immediately putting them on the hook to forgive us.

  3. I think I heart-feel apologize is to say words that come from your heart. It must be from the deepest of your heart. Make sure that you want to apologize to the person.
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  4. To me, the worst apologies are the ones which are accompanied by explanations of why the apologer did what they did.

    “I’m sorry I lost my temper and said that to you. It’s just that work has been stressful, and I have allergies.”

    This is essentially a way of saying “I’m sorry, but what I did was understandable if you think about it. So it’s not really my fault.”

    • Yes, exactly! I’m learning to simply take responsibility without making excuses. It’s not always easy but it’s so much more honoring to the person you offend or hurt.

  5. I have recently adopted utilizing both in and apology. I think it helps the offended party by allowing them to see that I accept that I was wrong. It also prepares me for someone to not forgive me. Admitting that I AM wrong and they ARE justified in being mad at me helps me to understand their POV. It also pushes me to remember that I need to attempt to mend those relationships that I have harmed.
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    • That’s a great point, John. Understanding the other person’s point of view can sometimes be the thing that changes your whole perspective and helps reconcile well.

  6. Well it is easy to say sorry sometimes even if it not meant but I guess this is really important.. We should know how to say sorry genuinely..
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  7. ELIASIL says:




  8. Hi Tony!
    I’ve never really thought of using I was wrong to impart a sense of authenticity, but I like it.

    I’ve always been conscious never to say, I’m sorry but…

    However I was wrong when I or because I is definitely show you really understand your err.

    Thanks for this
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  9. I could say that a person is sincere in saying “I’m sorry” when I see the the right emotion into the eyes of that person. Since the eyes are the mirror of the true emotions of the soul.
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    • That’s a good point but sincere sorrow isn’t the same as taking responsibility. By saying, “I was wrong” you are willing to take responsibility for your actions.

  10. Okay, transparency time – I’ve never used “I was wrong” when apologizing. I’ve always said “I’m sorry.”

    From reading this post I can already tell you the difference between the two personally. When I say “I’m sorry” I give a list of reasons *cough excuses cough* for why I did or said things I shouldn’t have.

    If I choose to say “I was wrong” like Jason mentioned gives ownership to our mistake(s). It’s basically saying, “I screwed up” and we take full responsibility for it.

    Great post and insight, Tony.
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    • Thanks Julie. And yeah, I’ve always said “I’m sorry” as well. It’s just recently that I’ve come to the realization that it’s just not the best way to apologize. Especially when that apology is followed by excuses, like you said.

  11. Tony, I never thought of apologizing that way, saying “I was wrong”. Saying “I was wrong” indicates two things, one that you were wrong, and two that you are sincerely sorry. Great perspective on apologizing with sincerity. Great post.
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  12. I tend to like “I was wrong” a lot more than the other, but some people know no different. I can handle an “I am sorry” if it face-to-face and said with sincerity.
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    • I know what you mean. It’s just that in my experience, regardless of how sincere the sorrow, people aren’t willing to take responsibility for their actions.

  13. I was wrong. I’ve heard “I’m sorry” so many times when it’s clear the person was just sorry they were caught. Ownership of the mistake is important.
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