The Art of Apology

The Art of Apology July 18, 2021

Guest blog by Laura S. Scott

When was the last time somebody offered you a sincere apology? Was it someone close to you, a family member? A stranger? Somebody on the street who stepped on your toe accidentally, or perhaps it was a tech support person at a call center somewhere reading off a script. ” I’m sorry you’re having difficulty accessing your account. Let’s try a few things…”

Perhaps it wasn’t even a real person. Maybe the last apology you heard was from AI. From Siri or Alexa. Sadly, I think AI is learning to apologize faster than most human beings learn the art of the apology.

The first step in the art of the apology is to forgive yourself.

The reason we human beings struggle with the art of the apology is that our brains are attached to being right. We are the masters of rationalization. And because our status in the world matters to us, we have a tendency to be more polite and gracious with strangers than we are with our own partners and family. We misstep, we hurt the people we love and then we say, “I really didn’t mean that. You’re overly sensitive.” 

Research on this has found, that refusing to apologize feels safer or easier than actually apologizing. We are afraid of apologizing or admitting fault because we are afraid of losing someone’s respect or love. We are afraid of losing status. I recently discussed the Art of the Apology with a former client on Exhale, a webinar series featured on his new mental health platform,, and shared the following tips:

The first step in the art of the apology is to forgive yourself first. Forgive yourself before you ask for forgiveness. We are human beings, not gods. We are not perfect.  Perfect people really don’t exist, they just pretend to be perfect which is just so annoying. So forgive yourself first. Think about your intent. Did you intend to hurt? Likely not.

Step two is to be more aware of your emotional wake. Imagine you’re a large ferry in a calm body of water. You come into the port at high speed and you disturb all the other smaller boats in the harbor. As the captain of your vessel, you want to mind the “no wake” zone. If you just said something that might come off as offensive or disrespectful look around and see how people are reacting. Look for the “ouches” in the room, by reading the faces and body language.

Step three in the art of apology is to simply apologize. Don’t make excuses. Don’t say “I’m sorry I’m just so stressed.” When you say that you’re addressing your own pain and hurt and not the other person’s pain and hurt. Instead, say “I’m sorry I was short with you. I can see your pain and anguish, forgive me.” Follow that with a hug or a gesture of comfort or respect. Then just shut up. No excuses.

Step four is to be careful not to repeat the behavior that first offended. Human beings learn very quickly how to push each other’s hot buttons. Don’t do it, just because you can. Show some restraint.

Identify one person that you feel deserves an apology from you and think about how you might do that. Create a script whereby you forgo the excuses and offer just a simple and sincere apology as a gesture of respect and love. It could be as simple as this, “I’m sorry that I hurt you. All I want for you is happiness and my actions made you sad. Please forgive me.”

The interesting thing about apologizing is that we imagine that when we offer apologies we are losing status by admitting our shortcomings. But actually, the opposite is true. The person who offers the sincere apology actually gains status and respect in the world. Because offering a sincere apology when you hurt someone is likely the most honorable thing you can do when you make a mistake. Unfortunately. many leaders and politicians learn that lesson too late. Or they use the “canned” apology to manipulate or get themselves out of trouble.

I always say to my clients “there are no mistakes only course corrections” and a sincere apology is the quickest, most loving, and honorable way to course correct in relationships. 

Laura S Scott is a partner/facilitator with Key Women’s Leadership Forums, founder and president of 180 Coaching, a Resilience @ Work accredited provider, Conversational Intelligence® coach, and an executive and leadership coach and trainer.