How to Apologize With Integrity

A successful apology signals responsibility and learning, not subordination or shame.

Do you know how to apologize so the person you are apologizing to will get it fully and get it the first time?

Do you know how to apologize so you are complete and both you and the other party are ready to move to resolution?

Not many of us know how to apologize with complete integrity. Most of us apologize with an attitude. We are either reluctant to own it completely, or we grovel unnecessarily.

The reluctant apologizer frequently can’t help being sarcastic and might say something like this: “Oh, you are waiting for me to say something? All right then, I’m sorry. Do you feel better now?”

The groveling apologizer frequently exhibits shame and might say something like this: “I’m sorry, it was all my fault. I should have known better. If you give me another chance…”

The trouble with both of these situations is that they mask, rather than highlight, the critical issue of responsibility.

The most responsible people I know apologize readily, with grace and integrity, because their apologies come from intentions of responsibility and contrition, not from reluctance or shame.

A responsible apology might sound like this:

  • “I blew it.”
  • “You didn’t deserve the treatment you got from me.” or
  • “I learned a lesson from this and am ready to show you my growth in this relationship.”

Skilled apologies hit their mark immediately. You know when you have received one.

What’s the secret of getting others to get your apology? As in many sticky situations, the secret is for you to get it first — and then signal that you have.

We can only apologize from a position of responsibility when we have first processed our own errors and truly feel the other party received less than our best treatment.

In other words, when you get it others will be hard-pressed to miss it.

Get Started With This 5-Minute Practice Tip

The next time you are in a position to apologize for a mistake you made, instead of chanting the same old, “I’m sorry,” try this instead: “I apologize to you. You didn’t deserve that from me. How can I make amends?”

Make sure you hold your head high and look the other person in the eye with confidence.

Try this for the team: Discuss with your teammates how you can best hear apologies from each other. Include words, tones, and actions that really demonstrate ownership and responsibility.


Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Responsibility, Teamwork on 08/04/2014 02:14 pm
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