If you’re human, you’ve probably found yourself needing to apologize to someone at some point. Apologies are a bedrock of healthy human interactions. But in spite of the most sincere intentions, our sorry sometimes proves inadequate. If your apologies tend to fall short, it could be that you’re only focusing on one of these elements of an apology. Remembering all of the “R’s” that make up an apology could help you say what the offended person really needs to hear, enabling you both to move forward and get past the offense.

Keep it Real

Avoid apologizing just to end a conflict when you don’t really feel sorry. Remember when your mom forced you to hug it out and say sorry when you were a kid? Saying sorry through gritted teeth doesn’t really work so well as an adult. Avoid words that shift blame or minimize like if, but, or maybe in your apology. Nobody wants to hear, “I’m sorry if…” or “I’m sorry but…” It sounds insincere and forced. Be sincere or don’t apologize.

Express Remorse

Be specific about what you’re sorry for. Identify what you did that was wrong, and say those three most difficult words… “I was wrong.” Explain how you would do things differently if you could do it over again.

Recognize Impact

Acknowledge how your words or actions affected the other person. Did you cause hurt or inconvenience or disappointment or cost them money? Did you break down trust in the relationship? Show that you understand how your offense has impacted the other person and/or your relationship with them. Offer to make amends when possible.

Resolve to Change

Explain how you plan to alter your behavior in the future. Admit if it will be difficult to change or if you will need help or patience from the other. Create a written plan if the offense was great or part of a repeated pattern. Act on your plan starting immediately.


Ask for forgiveness. The other person may not be ready to forgive, but asking lets the other know that you desire to reconcile and repair the relationship. Forgiveness is a choice that the other person can make not to hold the offense against you. Trust, however, is a feeling that may take a while to repair and rebuild. Let the other know that you recognize that you will have to earn that over time.

If your “sorry’s” always seem to be lacking, practice including each of these elements in your next apology. While they’re not the magic words ensuring forgiveness, they can go a long way when sorry just isn’t enough.

By Angie Sumrall from Thriveworks Marietta, GA