The anatomy of an apology looks like this in six components:

  1. An expression of regret – this, usually, is the actual “I’m sorry.”
  2. An explanation (but, importantly, not a justification).
  3. An acknowledgment of responsibility.
  4. A declaration of repentance.
  5. An offer of repair.
  6. A request for forgiveness.

Very, very useful to remember.

A few more tidbits at the end that are super-pragmatic:

  1. Show that you understand the impact of what you did wrong. Don’t say “Sorry if what I said hurt your feelings,” say, “I’m sorry for what I said, and I know it was hurtful.”
  2. Don’t say “I regret” in place of “I’m sorry.” It’s not the same thing. “I regret” signifies that you wish you hadn’t gotten caught, or hadn’t gotten in trouble for what you said. It makes everything about you.
  3. Don’t use the passive voice. There’s a reason “Mistakes were made” has become an apology cliché. It’s much better to own your actions and their consequences. (“I made mistakes, and as a result, people were hurt” — or whatever the case may be.)
  4. Say how you’re going to make sure this doesn’t happen again. If you’ve got a recurring bad behavioral pattern with your partner, tell them you’re going to work on it in therapy (and then actually do it). If your company released a faulty product, tell us how you’re going to ensure your products are safe and functional in the future.


Also published on Medium.