5 Differences Between a Sincere Apology and Non-Apology

Understanding the Right Way to Apologize

Learn the art of the apology. Image Source/Getty Images

The art of the apology seems to be a lost one these days, with people saying the word “sorry” almost like they mean it as a way to dismiss someone. Apologies are more than just a way to move on from a difficult situation, they’re a way to mend an emotional hurt and keep a friendship strong. An insincere apology has the power to end or damage a relationship.

Sincere Apologies Contain the Words "I’m Sorry"

A sincere apology contains the phrase “I’m sorry” and is followed by the thing that happened. (“I’m sorry I hurt your feelings by not inviting you to the birthday party.”) These words are important as they signify someone taking responsibility for what happened.

Even if you believe that your friend doesn’t have the right to be angry or that you did nothing wrong, saying “I’m sorry” lets your friend know you regret that they are hurt by something you did.

Without these important words, your apology turns into a non-apology, which is a meaningless way to apologize without taking responsibility.

Insincere Apologies Further Insult Someone

Did you ever have someone apologize to you but then immediately follow it up by explaining why they behaved poorly? Something like this:

“I’m sorry I said those nasty things behind your back. But the truth is, you are lazy and thoughtless.”

Not exactly a heartfelt apology, is it? These types of statements show you that your friend knows they upset you, they know the right thing to do is take responsibility for it, but they can’t quite go all the way.

It’s impossible to accept an apology that reinforces the insult or problem. If your friend says this, respond with:

“I really want to accept your sincere apology, and what you just said isn’t it. You’re continuing to insult me. Please think about the things you are saying if you’d like to apologize in the future, I will listen.”

Then walk away. It doesn’t pay to sit and listen to a friend offend you just because they’re mad that they “have” to apologize.

Sincere Apologies Don’t Use the Word "If"

If there’s any word that should be banned from apologies to friends, it’s the word “if.” An example of this is:

“I’m sorry if I offended you by making that joke.”

Your friend knows they offended you. That’s why they’re trying (lamely, without true heart or emotion) to apologize. But when they add the “if” they’re trying to ease things on themselves, not make things better between the two of you.  

Insincere Apologies Come With an Expectation That You’ll Get Over It Quickly

When an apology is made, some friends think that the issue is done and you can go back to being pals again. The problem is, forgiving is the first step in getting back to normal. It doesn’t mean you’re there yet.

Chances are, you still need time to work through the hurt. An apology helps you mend the fence, but it doesn’t erase what happened. So when a friend apologizes they can’t expect that their friend will go back to being close to them again. The reality is, it may take some time so they need to be patient.

Sometimes, an apology is really just the first step in regaining trust. Perhaps whatever happened was so bad that the friend who made the error needs to make amends for a while until trust is restored.

Sincere Apologies Are Done at the Appropriate Time and Place

Sometimes an apology has all the makings of perfection except for one thing: it’s too late. You need to say you’re sorry quickly enough so that you and a friend can make it back to being buds again. If you wait too long, your friend will have worked through the issue themselves and one of the ways they might do it is by ending your friendship.

Even if this happens, however, you should still apologize and take responsibility. A late apology (even one that does not repair a relationship) is still the right move to make.

Another issue is apologizing in the appropriate place. If your gaffe was done in front of a group of people, you should apologize in front of the group and make time to talk with your friend in private after. If your mistake was a private matter between you and your friend, your apology should be done when you and a friend are alone.

Knowing how to sincerely apologize makes you a stronger friend, so be sure to take your time and do it right. Here’s more about apologizing to a friend.