Do you apologize for anything and everything?
Do you apologize for things that are completely out of your control?
How about apologizing for other people’s behavior?
Do you tend to apologize just to see if the other person will apologize?

An apology can be a very cathartic act. It can mend fences and build bridges. It is an act of a true leader when you are able to admit a wrong or mistake.

An apology done well is powerful. For this reason, making an apology should be taken very seriously.

When they are thrown around without much thought, they lose their potency. An empty apology does not serve you but rather can diminish the respect others have for you.

Why do we struggle so much with apologies?

1) Some people don’t ever want to admit they are wrong. This relates to their self-esteem, although they might not admit it. Human beings are of greatest value. When a person cannot accept their value, they seek something external to give them the validation they need. Often people’s value is attached to their ideas. To the person whose self-esteem is attached to their ideas, admitting you are wrong means that YOU are wrong and you cannot NOT have value.
2) Other people don’t want to be seen as weak. They don’t want to make a mistake. They seek perfection. To admit fault is to admit failure, in their perspective. They value appearances over truth and humility.
3) And others apologize for everything. Guilt, shame, needing to be liked or needed, or fear of confrontation or conflict causes them to accept responsibility for everything. Their fear is in charge and they are at Fear’s mercy.

How well do you do with apologizing? Here are some dos and don’ts for making an apology:

DO listen to the other person’s feelings. If they are hurting, acknowledge their pain.

DON’T accept responsibility for their pain. It’s not yours; it’s theirs. If you did or said something inappropriate and that resulted in their pain, then yes,

DO apologize for anything YOU DO that might directly have caused their pain. Be careful how you language your apology though.

Accepting responsibility is crucial to determine whether an apology applies and is necessary.

DO accept responsibility for your words and actions. If they result in harm or if you are wrong, then DO apologize.

DON’T apology out of guilt. If you carry a lot of guilt with you or if guilt tends to drive your behaviors, then challenge the guilt feeling. Is it true? Or is it that this person does not wish to accept their responsibility in the situation? The guilt is yours but it is just an emotion. Identify the anger underneath to determine if the problem is yours or theirs. Take the assessment on my website to identify specifically the thought processes leading to your guilt. From there, you can learn to take charge rather than being at the mercy of these guilt feelings.

DON’T accept responsibility for things over which you have no control. “I am so sorry for the foot of snow we got that slowed down traffic.” Really? You have that much power you can control the weather? Please, just apologize for being late.

DON’T explain away the apology. When you explain yourself it diminishes the potency of the apology. And, in some cases, it reverses it. “I am so sorry I am late but you see, the traffic was a mess and my kids were unruly and I couldn’t get…” What happens is that you water-down your apology. Your excuses tell the other person that you are not really at fault. These outside factors were the real cause for your behavior. You are perceived as being out of control.

DO apologize for your behavior or the result of your behavior. “I apologize for missing the deadline.” Say no more. This means, you may have to listen to others complain about the results of your actions. They have every right to their thoughts and feelings about your behavior. Let them vent.

DON’T let them go on and on. And DON’T let them chastise you. It is never acceptable to be put down or otherwise belittled or abused. You may have to set a boundary and tell them that it’s enough. You can move the conversation along by changing the subject or if you have to, then leave.

DON’T keep apologizing! Say it once. Make sure it is heard and then let it go. It is up to the other person to receive your apology. You have no control over what they do with your apology.

Will you get in trouble because you missed the deadline or didn’t finish your work? You may. Next time, meet the deadline.

DO understand if the other person is unwilling to forgive. They do not have to. And they will have to live with that. You have done your part by saying what needs to be said and “clearing the space”. And while you may feel badly that the other person cannot find forgiveness at this time, you can only do what you can do which is to accept responsibility for you. They are responsible for themselves.

DON'T apologize simply to get the other personal to apologize. They may accept responsibility for their part; they may not. You do not have control over that. As a leader, be the role model and be understanding. They may not be ready to accept responsibility for their flaws. It's a big step in personal development, one that many people are just not ready for. Their self-esteem may be too fragile. And, we’ve all been there at some point in our lives.

DON’T accept responsibility for other people’s poor behavior and words. This is a huge source of stress! When you accept responsibility for other people, you do not allow them to feel the pain of their own actions and receive the consequences. You, however, will become angry and resentful.

DO put responsibility where it belongs.

Oh, and one more thing, listen to your voice mail message. If you apologize for being unable to answer the phone, change it. Instead say that you are out having a great time and you’ll return the call when you can.

DON’T be sorry that you missed the call. Be happy that you have a life away from the phone!

Author's Bio: 

Does Change have to be so H.A.R.D.? Julie Donley, a psychiatric nurse and author of this essential book on change, was tired of life being SO hard and went in search of an easier way. What she found was quite intriguing: “Hard or easy, it’s how you think about it!” Want to learn more? Contact to arrange a free 30-minute coaching session to learn how you too can change a HARD challenge to something EASY. An addiction and change expert, Julie is named one of the top 100 thought leaders in her field. She has published hundreds of articles and is author of several works including Does Change have to be so H.A.R.D.? and The Journey Called YOU: A Roadmap to Self-Discovery and Acceptance. Visit to learn more about her work, sign up for her newsletter or arrange to have her speak at your next meeting or conference.