Anatomy of a Crummy Apology (and How it Could Be Improved)

I write a lot about apologizing because I think it is an important, and under-rated skill.

Important because—when done well—apologies cause people to forgive: to give as they did before.

Underrated because crummy apologies are so pervasive that we rarely take the time to put our finger on why we find them lacking—but we do.

Why am I writing about this today?

A few weeks ago my beloved husband received an email containing an apology from an acquaintance. Upon reading it, he said, “Well, so-and-so apologized… so I guess that’s that.”

“You don’t sound convinced,” I said. “Why?”

After reading it, I got it. 

It contained every aspect of the kind of apology that drives me wild.

What are those aspects?

First, lack of accountability.

How did this manifest? Well, the note began, “We all have our reasons for doing things.”  Um…yes. We do. Please don’t attempt to justify your behavior.

This was followed by, “This is not a justification.” Um… yes, it is. Don’t gaslight me.

It went on, “It was not my intent to upset you or how you like things done.” Here, context is important. The person in question was apologizing for breaking traffic rules we must all obey—you, me… everybody. It’s not that Keith “likes things done” a certain way. It’s that the government likes things done a certain way. Don’t make it seem as if the person you are apologizing to is just “super-sensitive.”

It concluded, “I hope you can forgive me.” As discussed in my recent post on how to tell someone you’ve been keeping a secret, apologizing is not about your comfort. It’s about theirs. Don’t ask others to forgive you. If they choose to, lucky you; it is not your right, however.

So if and when you need to apologize—and I recommend putting your hand in the air quickly when you need to—be accountable and be sorry.

Otherwise, it’s just fake news—and we’ve all had a bellyful of that.


For more on effective apologies, take a look at: “I’m Sad for the Repercussions of My Actions…: FOR REAL??”