How to Give and Receive an Apology

Let’s face it. None of us are perfect and there are times when we make mistakes, mess up and hurt the feelings of others. We all have our limits and when we overstep the mark, an apology is required. As a parent, teacher, leader, friend and wife, I have given many apologies. However, it wasn’t always pretty.

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Giving an apology is a complex social skill and like all other social skills, it requires modelling, practice and feedback.Just as equally, there is skill in being able to accept an apology as well.

A good apology has three parts:

1.“I’m sorry.” Speaking these words can be the hardest part and it must be genuine, rather than forced. Forcing someone to apologise rarely has the desired effect of the person learning the lesson and changing their behaviour. A genuine apology comes with being able to understand the consequences of your actions, how it is perceived by the other person and a degree of empathy.

2.“It was my fault.” The second step is taking ownership for your actions, admitting you were at fault and taking responsibility. At this stage, it is important not to make excuses or blame the other person, as this negates the first step.

3.“ What can I do to make it right?” The last step is to be accountable for your actions and ask what you can do to fix the situation. Of course, if a suggestion is given, then you need to follow up on it and do what you can to correct the situation.

Remember that apologising doesn’t always mean that you were wrong or the other person was right. It means that you value your relationship more than your ego. Of course, the apology does not mean anything if you continue to do the thing that you have since apologised for previously.

Being on the receiving end of an apology also requires skill. You must be able to accept it gracefully, while also not letting the person ‘off the hook.’ Often, the default response is, “It’s okay,” however, it was not okay or an apology would not be required. “It’s okay,” minimises and trivialises the apology. So, how do you accept an apology? Again, a good acceptance of an apology has three parts.

4.“I appreciate your apology.” This acknowledges that it may have been difficult for the other person to give the apology and conveys your gratitude that the person has made the effort to make amends.

5.“ My feelings were hurt because…” Step two is to be honest about your emotions and show you are not being casual or flippant about the situation. Be clear and direct about how you felt when the other person behaved poorly.

6.“I accept your apology.” The final step is to accept the apology. You might choose to comment on how you understand why they did what they did and forgive the person. Tell the person you want to continue a positive relationship and move on.

Accepting an apology in no way means your hurt feelings suddenly stop or that you are now best buddies again. It is, however, a step towards healing and moving forward.

I love this quote from an unknown source:

“The first to apologise is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.”

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Karen Tui Boyes

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for LifeLong Learning. A multi-award-winning speaker, educator and businesswoman, she is an expert in effective teaching, learning, study skills, motivation and positive thinking. Karen is the CEO of Spectrum Education, Principal of Spectrum Online Academy and the author of 10 books. She loves empowering teachers, parents and students and is the wife to one and the mother of two young adults.
Karen was named the GIFEW Evolutionary Woman of the Year 2022.