How to say sorry

“I’m sorry” is one of the most common phrases in the English language, but probably one of the most misused.

Before I got married, I didn’t understand any of the art of how to apologise. I thought you did something, you recognised that it was wrong, you said sorry and you perhaps asked for forgiveness. I was missing out on huge swathes of psychology, intricacy and emotion behind the phrase.

Since getting married and learning both by experience and by reading, I have learned that there is so much more to apologising and I was certainly doing it incorrectly in the past. A quick rundown of some of the things that you’re probably doing wrong when you try to apologise:

  • Using the word “but”, which seeks to excuse your actions and all but negates the apology.
  • Asking for forgiveness: all you need to do is apologise (sincerely) and absolve yourself of your wrongdoing. Forgiveness is a decision that the other party has to make, to decide whether to release themselves of the hurt or continue to carry it around.
  • Waiting for the other to acknowledge their wrongdoing: the other person may have done 90% of the wrongdoing, but your focus needs to be on righting your wrong rather than waiting or expecting the other person to come forward for their part, regardless of how little your wrong might be. Also, know and accept that you definitely did something wrong, whether you meant to or not.
  • Trying to be right: resist the temptation to interrupt, argue or correct facts. You need to be able to hear the other person’s grievances without getting defensive, whether you agree with them or not.
  • Tell them why they’re wrong for feeling how they feel: it doesn’t matter how you intended for something to be received or whether you meant to hurt them: the fact is that you did and you should respond with how the person feels, not how you meant for them to feel.

This was all prompted by an article that I just read it the New York Times that more articulately puts these thoughts together with a bit more science and background behind it, so I suggest that you read it and rethink how you’re apologising to people because it can revolutionise and rejuvenate relationships.

By Dave

Dave is the proud father of Ellie and Jack. There's nothing that makes him happier than spending time with his incredible wife and their amazing children. He's a civil/mechanical engineer and he also builds and maintains WordPress websites.


  1. Hi Dave, interesting post. It’s funny how we choose to blame others instead of us. However I think that should be the way that we found to relief our responsabilities. There is no middle term and probably without that, we would have a suicidal world, people have problems in being realistics.
    Can I ask you for a post about America and the world this days? I would love to hear it from you and I hope for some ‘Europe’ ‘among those words. Can I ask for that?
    Best Regards from Portugal,

    a civil engineer :)

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