The Art of Apology-Harvard Health Blog


If you have stayed in the home of one or more family members most of the past year, you may occasionally be troubled by each other’s nerves. When you are under a lot of pressure, you will often say something unkind, or even get angry at the person you care about. And each of us will make unconscious mistakes from time to time, such as forgetting promises or breaking something.

Not sure if you should apologize?

Even if you don’t think what you said or did is too bad, or think that other people are actually wrong, it’s still important to apologize to you when you hurt or irritate someone. Dr. Ronald Siegel, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, said: “To keep in touch with others or to establish contact with others, you must give up worrying about right and wrong and understand the other person’s experience. “This ability is one of the foundations of emotional intelligence, and it is the foundation of various healthy and productive relationships.

How to apologize

In order for an apology to be effective, it must be true. A successful apology can verify whether the other person is angry and acknowledge your responsibility (you accept that your actions cause the other person’s pain). What you want to convey is that you truly feel sorry and care about the injured person and promise to pay compensation, including taking steps to avoid similar unfortunate events like the examples below.

Apology expert, former president and dean of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and late psychiatrist Dr. Aaron Lazare believes that a good apology has four elements:

  • Plead guilty. Take responsibility for illegal actions (whether physical or psychological harm) and confirm that your actions are not accepted. Avoid using vague or evasive language, or apologize in a way that minimizes offending or doubting whether the victim has been harmed.
  • Explain what happened. The challenge here is to explain how the crime occurred without justification. In fact, sometimes the best strategy is to say that there are no excuses.
  • Express remorse. If you feel sorry for a mistake or feel ashamed or humiliated, please say this: This is all about expressing sincere regret.
  • Make an offer. For example, if you damage someone’s property, repair or replace it. When an offense hurts someone’s feelings, acknowledge the pain and promise to become more sensitive in the future.


The number of words you chose to apologize. Here are some examples of good and bad apologies.

Effective wordingWhy work
“Sorry, I lost my temper last night. I am under a lot of work pressure, but this is not an excuse for my behavior. I love you, and will work harder, don’t let my frustration fall on you.”Take responsibility, explain but not defend the cause of the error, express remorse and care, and promise compensation.
“I forgot. I apologize for this mistake. This shouldn’t have happened. What should I do to avoid this problem in the future?”Take responsibility, describe mistakes, make people feel taken care of, and have a conversation about how to correct mistakes.
Invalid wordingWhy doesn’t it work
“I apologize for what happened.”The language is ambiguous; no offense is specified.
“A mistake was made.”Use the passive voice to avoid responsibility.
“Okay, I’m sorry. I don’t know this is a sensitive issue for you.”It sounds a bit harsh, putting the blame on the offending person (for “sensitivity” considerations).


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