The Perfect Apology

Why a Perfect Apology?

When last have you heard a perfect apology? More importantly, why is it that we dread having to apologise fully? When we know we’ve messed up or made a mistake, why do we not just avoid ‘fess up and say sorry? Mostly, we cover up, we blame, we brush it aside but we don’t use the power of a complete apology. We may even go so far as an “I’m sorry” then follow it with that fatal “BUT…” Let’s face it, even if you’re not a communication expert, you know when an apology is owed and what you want to hear that will make it the perfect apology.

As you wait for that perfect apology, you’ve probably speculated about all the reasons why you haven’t received one. Do these sound familiar?

  • He’s from that generation where it’s just not done.
  • She’s probably too ashamed or embarrassed
  • He’s young and cocky, just too arrogant to say sorry.
  • You know him,; he just has to be right; he can never admit a mistake…
  • Hmm, she thinks it’s beneath her to apologise…
  • It’s just part of the organisational culture – nobody here apologises.

Certainly, if we want to win in our relationships, we must learn how to apologise and mean it!

What’s the Stop?

An apology is owed everytime we betray someone’s trust, don’t do what we said we would, say or do something that hurts or denegrates another. When we for waste someone’s time; break a promise; realise we are wrong about something we insisted we’re right about. When we know we’ve been rude or irritable or snappy; have taken advantage of someone or belittled or hurt them. We need only look inward to know when it’s due.

When we’re waiting for an apology, we can only see why they should say sorry…and mean it! So what about when we ourselves owe that apology? Are the same thoughts running or are there other drivers to our procrastination?

Despite what most people think, the reason we put off  a perfect apology is simpler than expected:


People avoid apologies out of fear. Not the fear that it won’t be the perfect apology; rather, fear they’ll lose face.  Fear they’ll be rebuffed. Fear of humiliation. Fear they won’t be accepted.

Now, you need to know that rejection is the greatest neurological pain a human being can experience. In fact, MRI scans show that social rejection registers in the pain centre of the brain at the same location and magnitude as the physical pain of breaking your leg in a football match!

Our fear of rejection is in the expectation that nothing we do can restore or build trust. What if you brush me aside and invalidate my vulnerability? What if you laugh at me?! What if despite my best effort, you say you don’t accept my apology?

THIS fear…this is the one that keeps us at the surface level of “I’m sorry” and keeps our relationships fractured, while we pretend that we’re over it.

Three parts of a Perfect Apology

If we follow these simple steps, there’s really nothing to fear. Rather, people will hear your commitment and your willingness to set things right. People will get that they matter to you and they will want to reconnect. You see, for an apology to be an effective communication, it must contain three parts.

First is simply Saying sorry. I apologise. I’m sorry for what I did. Now there are two major mistakes people make which make us believe that it’s pointless they apologised. Commonly, they add an excuse or explanation. That just ruins everything. An apology is about taking full responsibility. Another mistake is that they apologise for how the other person reacted or felt. No, an apology is about your own action.

Second, is acknowledging the impact of my action or non-action. I hurt you. I didn’t keep my promise. I lied to you. I broke your trust in me. I cannot undo it , restore it or fix it. As you can see, this takes real self-awareness, thoughful insight and courage. When we do this authentically, people hear a shift and they step into a new space with you.

Third, is asking what you need from me to build trust again. Then actually listen to the response and make a new commitment. How can I make this right? What can I do to restore the damage I’ve done? This is where the risk lies but it is also how they know that I truly mean it. Am I willing to hear the answer and act on it? This is the test of sincerity and commitment.

It’s all about Connection, Courage and Grace

While none of us enjoy being wrong, we know that we hurt for very long when we make ourselves vulnerable, we feel that nobody’s really listening and we don’t get to restore the connection that we were seeking. Ultimately, that’s what each person wants – the one seeking an apology and the one needing to make an apology – an opportunity for re-connection. A real apology helps us build a culture of connection around us. However, to experience this, we need to be willing to risk vulnerability. We need to activate our conversational intelligence, be gracious and sensitive to the vulnerability of others. It takes courage to apologise and do it right. It takes grace to accept an apology and forgive. Try it.

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