How To Apologize

Accept it, it’s your fault


Dan Harmon, the creator of the popular TV shows “Community” and “Rick and Morty,” was outed in 2018 by a former colleague for creating an uncomfortable workplace environment at the time of her tenure. After dismissing accusations of the abuse, Harmon came to terms with his past behavior and made one of the most profound public apologies on his podcast “Harmontown.” In another instance, activist and author V, formerly Eve Ensler, has written a book from her dead father’s perspective detailing an apology she has long yearned for regarding his abuse.

Maybe you fucked up.

You did or said something wrong that resulted in someone getting hurt, someone not speaking to you, someone’s reputation being ruined or a combination of the above. It’s a confusing, ego-bruising position to be in to acknowledge the fact that you blew it, but it’s a treacherous, daunting and stomach-churning position to actually take action and apologize. It’s hard to know how the other person will react, and whether this person will even accept your apology.

The Ohio State University has studied effective apologies and people all over the world have shared what they think makes a good apology. There is no perfect formula for apologies as every situation is different but, having scoured the internet’s tips and observing a few common elements, below are steps you can take to finally say sorry to someone who deserves it.

Step 1: Regret, acknowledgement, and accountability

Reflect on the incident(s) by examining your actions and taking responsibility. This first step lets them know that you regret your action and are holding yourself accountable for the hurt caused.

Remember, do not make excuses for yourself. This will undermine your apology.

Step 2: Recognize their pain

Put yourself in their position at the time(s) of the incident(s) and empathize with their feelings given the circumstances.

Remember, don’t make this about how you think the other person should have reacted or what you think they should have done in that situation. Tread carefully here, because the minute you begin shifting the blame to the other person or dismissing their reaction to your fuck-up, you’ve completely invalidated their feelings and your apology becomes insincere.

Step 3: Examine what you’ve learned and promise to not repeat

Review your mistakes, express how you’ve grown since, and vow to never repeat that past hurt with that person in the future.

Step 4: Apologize

Sincerely apologize. Simply say, “I’m sorry.” No adding any “buts.” It’s best to offer a solution to fix the situation, but if you’re well past the point of a tangible action, perhaps the only promise you can make is to be a better person.

Step 5: Ask for forgiveness.

Remember that while you can ask for forgiveness, it’s not guaranteed. The point is that you’ve taken steps to seek forgiveness, and the goal is to express your apology so neither person holds any power over the other.

Whatever the pain caused — whether you broke someone’s favorite mug or broke someone’s heart — healing is not linear. It might take time for them to process your reflection and it might not give you the results you wanted but keep your heart open for the day they might be ready to forgive you.

While the ability to measure sincerity is best done in person, be mindful of the other person’s communication style. Whether via text, email, phone call or in person, decide what’s best for them and try to optimize your apology through that medium. Maybe this person would rather not hear from you, and that might be completely valid, so consider their comfort level before reaching out.

Nonetheless, you’ve taken the time to do the above steps and apologize. Neither person deserves to live with the dread of the past, and it takes a lot to try to make amends and move forward. An apology is meant to be a very personal — a special and heartfelt act — and hopefully it will ultimately aid both parties in strengthening their relationships in the future.