How to Apologize: A Public Service Announcement

  1. Tell the person you know you have hurt (or upset, or insulted, or whatever) them and you would be grateful for a chance to talk. Say you really want to understand their feelings. If this is a mutual apology situation (e.g., you and your partner both said or did hurtful things to each other), make it clear that you’d like each of you to hear the other out with equal attention.
  2. Set your groundrules: If this is a one-directional apology, you to the person you wronged, you will listen with an open heart and mind to that person’s account of the experience and the feelings it stimulated. No comment, contradiction, or defensiveness: just listening.
  3. If this is a mutual apology, each person will have an uninterrupted opportunity to describe the experience in question and the feelings that were stimulated by it. The other person should do all possible to listen with an open heart and mind, recognizing that each person’s experience is different, that each experience is made of multiple stories, not a single right and wrong. As with a one-directional apology, just listen.
  4. If you are making a one-directional apology, you now mirror back to the other person what you heard, being sure to say that you are open to correction if you misheard in any way. You are aiming for an account of the other person’s thoughts and feelings that satisfies that person as true to their experience.
  5. If this is a mutual apology, both parties take turns mirroring back, accepting correction as it is offered, until both feel fairly represented.
  6. In a one-directional apology, having heard and understood the feelings of the person who was wronged, you then offer a sincere and specific apology. For example, “I’m so sorry the way I said that felt insulting. I feel terrible for hurting you. I wish I’d never said it. I will do my best to learn from this experience. Please forgive me.” Then you give the other person a moment to consider your request. You may receive a “Yes,” or you may need to ask if there is more that person needs from you before forgiveness is possible, and continue the process.
  7. In a mutual apology, both parties take turns apologizing and asking for forgiveness, refining the exchange until everyone feels complete.




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Arlene Goldbard

Arlene Goldbard

Writer, painter, speaker, consultant activist. Learn more about

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