A Better Way to Apologize

How to Say “I’m Sorry” in a Way that Shows We Really Mean it and that Can Restore Relationships

A Better Way to Apologize

This is Entrepreneurs of Faith, a Sunday episode of Monetization Nation. I’m Nathan Gwilliam, your host. Today, we’re talking about a better way to apologize that can show we really mean it and help restore relationships. 

“The art of a sincere and heartfelt apology is one of the greatest skills you will ever learn.”
– Jeanette LeBlanc

Yesterday I interviewed an amazing entrepreneur and CEO who happens to be a woman. I was impressed by her. I have 3 daughters, and I thought to myself how valuable it would be for women like them to be mentored by her, someone who had “been there and done that” so successfully. I asked her what advice she would give to a conference of women. However, my guest graciously commented that her advice would be helpful to everyone. After the interview, I thought about what she said and understood her point and my mistake. Of course, her advice would absolutely be valuable to everyone and not just women. I had not meant that her advice would only be valuable to women, but nonetheless, my comment was thoughtless and wrong. So, I immediately contacted my guest and apologized, and she immediately forgave me. 

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In our current social and political climate many people feel apologizing for shows weakness, and when these people are wrong, instead of apologizing, they double down on explaining why they were not wrong. Or, if they do need to apologize, they give a non-apology, such as “I’m sorry if you were offended” which doesn’t take any responsibility or apologize for anything. The lack of apology or the non-apology conveys exactly the opposite of a good apology. It conveys that the offender is not sorry, and reinforces the offense. 

“Never believe you’re so great or important, so right or proud, that you cannot kneel at the feet of someone you hurt and offer a humble, sincere apology.”

– Richelle E. Goodrich

When my wife and I were parenting our young daughters, as happens with all siblings, there were times when one daughter would do something to hurt or offend one of our other daughters. The offending daughter would sometimes refuse to apologize, and we as parents would step in and require the offending sister to apologize. Then, the offending sister would reply with the words such as “fine, I’m sorry” as sarcastically as possible. She would be saying the words we wanted but conveying exactly the opposite meaning. Or she would give a non-apology such as “I’m sorry you got hurt” specifically avoiding responsibility for what happened.

“‘I’m sorry you’re angry’ is not an apology.”

– Lisa Lutz

So, my wife researched and found a better way to teach our daughters to apologize in a way that shows we really mean it, and that can help diffuse the situation. It’s a simple 4-step system for offering an effective apology. 

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1. We say “I’m sorry for ….” and then fill in the blank with the specific thing we did wrong. This cannot be a vague statement such as “I’m sorry I hurt you.” We must specifically state how we hurt the person and take responsibility. This shows we recognize what we did wrong. This is so important because if we don’t even recognize what we did wrong, there is very little chance we will not repeat the mistake again.  

“Apologies require taking full responsibility. No half-truths, no partial admissions, no rationalizations, no finger-pointing, and no justifications belong in any apology.”

– Cathy Burnham Martin

2. Then, we say “This was wrong because…” and then fill in the blank with the reason why we are sorry. This takes more thought but is our chance to show that we understand why what we did was wrong. This step forces us to put ourselves in the shoes of the person we offended or hurt, and show empathy. This may be the most important step in gaining forgiveness. 

“Empathy, the ability to identify with someone else’s suffering, is certainly a prerequisite for a genuine apology.”

– Danielle Ofri

3. Then, we say “In the future, I will…” and fill in the blank with the specific plan of action we will try to implement to prevent this from happening again. For this step, it is often better to focus on the positive action we will take instead of the negative action we will avoid. For example, it is better to say “In the future, I will speak to you respectfully” instead of “In the future, I will not call you a name.” We can apologize over and over, but if our actions don’t change our words are meaningless. This is our chance to show how we are going to change, and give our words more meaning. 

4. Finally, we ask “Will you forgive me?” Then, it is up to the other person. They may not forgive us. That’s their choice. But at least we ask for it. 

“ An apology offered and, equally important, received is a step towards reconciliation and, sometimes, recompense. Without that process, hurts can rankle and fester and erupt into their own hatreds and wrongdoings.”

– Margaret MacMillan

My wife printed up these four steps, put them up on our wall more than a dozen years ago, and they are still up on the wall of our mudroom today even though we have moved homes multiple times since then. This better way to apologize has been used many times in our family to apologize, diffuse charged situations and restore important relationships.  I found that these steps work effectively in our personal and professional relationships. 

And, I’ve learned that the faster we apologize, the more effective it can convey our true remorse. 



Apologizing when done correctly is not a weakness. There is a deep power that can come from apologizing quickly and effectively. It can help restore and heal breaches in important relationships. 

I know that sometimes apologizing effectively can put us in a position of vulnerability and humility. That’s scary sometimes. But it’s worth it. 

“An apology is the superglue of life. It can repair just about anything.”

– Lynn Johnston

However, apologies are essential to repair and retain great relationships with people that matter to us and anyone else we hurt or offend.

“An apology is such an expression that shows, not only greatness and insight; whereas, it also protects from breaking the family ties, and friendly contacts.”

– Ehsan Sehgal

These four quick and simple steps work really well and make apologizing immensely more effective. 

1. I’m sorry for…

2. This is wrong because…

3. In the future I will…

4. Will you forgive me?

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The challenge for this week is to try using these four steps to apologize this week, notice the difference it makes, and then strive our best to not repeat the mistake. 

“Apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future.”

– Kevin Hancock

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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