Sorry Not Sorry

Sorry Not Sorry

There are several types of “I’m sorry’s” and research reveals four to six characteristics of a sincere apology. When you include at least three of these characteristics the positive effects on the relationship, and even your health, are impressive. A sincere apology can be linked to increased productivity, morale, and job commitment. Next time you find yourself in a situation where you need to apologize, be sure to include these characteristics.

3 Types of Apologies:


  • Reflexive Sorry: this is when you assume you are putting someone out. “I’m sorry, can you tell me the time?” and “I’m sorry, can I use your bathroom?” This is most likely done out of courtesy however it is often unnecessary and may begin to impact self-esteem over a period of time.
  • Permission Sorry: “I’m sorry, I have to take this call” or “I’m sorry, but I need to go first.” This apology assumes that because you said sorry in advance of your action the other person is okay with whatever you are about to do. You are apologizing because you know general manners dictate that your action is not acceptable.
  • Reluctant Sorry: This is the one employed by an upset child at the demand of a parent. In adults, it looks like “I’m sorry you were offended.” No, you aren’t sorry. This apology is given when you’re trying to save face or someone, like a manager, is making you apologize for your actions.


6 Effective Apology Characteristics


  • Accept responsibility (for your actions/impacts)
  • Be specific and explain what went wrong
  • Be empathetic and express your regret
  • Fix it (whether it’s a material item or emotional upset)
  • Ask for forgiveness & be patient
  • Change your behaviour


When I consider my friend’s apology through the above characteristics I understand why it rang hollow – none of the traits above were present. What if she didn’t remember the situations I was talking about or didn’t feel like she needed to apologize for anything? Of course, this happens since there are two sides to a story.


It’s Not My Fault

If you don’t think you have anything to apologize for:

  • Step into the other person’s shoes and consider how they may have come to feel wronged.
  • Does some part of this story reflect feedback/comments you have received from others? Maybe you are always late, interrupting others, or trying to one-up someone.
  • Consider your history with the person. It could be their reaction to the situation in question is overblown if it was a singular event but if it’s part of a larger pattern then perhaps it was the final straw.

If you aren’t sorry – don’t say it, however, if you can see/relate/empathize with the other person’s take on the event, own your portion (big or small) and with sincerity, say I am sorry. Extend your commitment to stop the offending behaviour and stick to it.


An effective apology can make all the difference to a relationship – business and personal – and can help ensure the relationship continues.  As with any important conversation, it is important to think through what you are going to say, consider how it will be received, and practice the words.  Please contact me to discuss your apology situation and take a look at the information below.



Saying “I’m Sorry” 4 Guidelines for an effective apology, Richard B. Joelson DSW, LCSW

An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies, Lewicki, Polin, & Lount Jr.

I’m Sorry You Were Offended” Is Not Really an Apology!, B. Flaxington

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