6 Words That Ruin An Apology

WATCH: These Words Are Guaranteed To Ruin An Apology

Apologies are easy, or so it would seem. We utter them all the time for minor things without a second thought: “Sorry, I’m running late.” “Sorry, what did you say?” “I’m sorry, but I was here first.”  

But making a sincere apology is something else altogether. When we’ve truly wronged someone, it’s important to choose our words carefully to make sure our apology is received well, and to make sure we’re speaking from the heart. Too often, however, our choice of words (or where we put them) undermines, derails, or otherwise muddles sincerity, and the recipient is left more offended than they were in the first place.  

Here are six words that can sabotage your apology in no time flat. Proceed with caution!

1. You

There’s no better way to apologize without actually apologizing than following an “I’m sorry” with this three-letter pronoun. “I’m sorry you … [feel that way/think that/misinterpreted things/anything else].”

If you’re sorry, be sorry for your own actions. Don’t imply that the recipient was wrong to feel upset or hurt.

Of course, context is important. If it applies, then feel free to throw in you at other points, as in the always appreciated expression “You were right, and I was wrong.”

2. But

This little conjunction may be the ultimate apology annihilator. You never know what will come after it, but whatever it is, it’s bound to steer your mea culpa away from sincerity and down a road of excuses and exculpations. Best to leave the phrase “I’m sorry, but … ” at the door. 

3. If

Such a short little pronoun, with such massive passive-aggressive power.

If it came off that way …” “If I hurt you …” “If you think I was wrong …” If you were wrong, there should be no ifs about it.

4. I

It’s obviously OK to start an apology with I, as in “I am sorry,” but if the rest of your apology is filled with “I [this …]”  and “I [that …]” then there’s a good chance you’re making it all about you, and not about the person you hurt. Be mindful of how you incorporate this term, and whether what follows is a line of defense, or something more earnest and useful.

5. Blame

While the rain (cue Milli Vanilli), tequila, or anything else may have something to do with your actions, saying, “I blame it on … ” sucks the sincerity right out of an apology. It implies that you’re holding someone or something other than yourself responsible, and it sounds more like an explanation than a plea for forgiveness. Plus, we all know that it can never really be the tequila’s fault.

6. Not

This mighty adverb can come in handy in all kinds of heartfelt apologetic phrases, but the tired “sorry, not sorry” isn’t one of them. Enough with the sarcastic sorrow. Can we please just banish this phrase already? Either be sorry or don’t be sorry, and if you’re not, then words like unapologetic , impenitent, and obdurate have a much nicer and respectful ring.

Now that we’ve established what not to say, here are some tips on different ways you can say you’re sorry. And if you’re actually trying to kick the apologizing habit, consider some of these phrases in place of saying “I’m sorry” at every turn.

But what about people who never acknowledge they should be apologizing? We have a lot to say about whataboutism here.

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