A strong and meaningful apology has to be genuinely felt. In fact, when it is deeply felt and communicated, the components described below will often be spontaneously expressed, or they may be expressed non-verbally. In a nutshell, a strong and meaningful apology requires that we both communicate empathy and take responsibility for our actions.
Feeling a sense of what the other person has experienced as a result of our actions (empathy) may be the most important capability of all in making a meaningful apology, but on its own, it is not enough. We then have to communicate that felt sense (the empathy).
Weak apology: “I am sorry I’m late.”
A more meaningful apology: “I am sorry I’m late. I’m sure that I’ve inconvenienced and possibly irritated you as well.”
The apology will often be more meaningful when an emotional component of the affected person’s experience has been explicitly recognized.
The communication of an apology actually depends not only upon how you communicate with the affected person but also upon how you communicate with yourself. In making a genuine apology we are looking at our actions and saying to ourselves, ‘I did something that doesn’t represent the person I want to be. In order to be the person I want to be, I am going to have to act differently in the future.’
You can be sorry someone was hurt by your actions, but if you are not also making it clear you chose those actions on some level, then I contend that it is not a strong apology. Having done something wrong or taken action that we regret means we regret what we did of our own volition, not what circumstances would misguide any good person to do.
This means that ‘I’m sorry, but….” is never a strong apology because whatever follows ‘but’ will be an external factor that reduces our level of responsibility for our actions.
Weak apology: “I am sorry I’m late, but the traffic was unexpectedly bad.”
Stronger apology: “I’m sorry I am late; I should have allowed more time for unexpected delays. Next time I will leave a larger cushion.”
In other words, strong apologies require a significant level of personal responsibility.
Empathy and Responsibility for a Strong and Meaningful Apology
In this next example below I am putting together the components of a strong and meaningful apology outlined above. I am also using different expressions for variety.
Strong apology: “I’m sorry that I am late. I bet that’s irritating and I’ve probably wasted some of your time. I should have left earlier today and next week I will be sure to do so. ”
In summary, the communication of a strong and meaningful apology includes explicit empathy and taking responsibility for our actions in two ways:
1. We show that we have responded emotionally to significant aspects of the hurt or inconvenience to the other person
2. We recognize that we have done something wrong or done something that we regret
3. We express our commitment to acting differently in a similar circumstance in the future
If you wish to make a strong and meaningful apology, consider if the inclusion of these components will enhance the value of what you wish to communicate.
Thank you for your readership!