Personal Communication

3 Things Not To Do When Apologizing

#2 — Don’t justify your action

Devin Mehra


Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

We all make mistakes. Unfortunately some of those mistakes can hurt another person. We’ve been taught the right thing to do in these circumstances is apologize.

While it’s all dandy and nice to apologize, where we can miss the boat is how to go about apologizing to another human being. You may have had the experience of apologizing, only to have the other person lash out even further.

Let’s say you’re with a group of friends and you make an off color joke. One of your friends doesn’t take a liking towards your poorly worded joke. A few minutes later you approach the friend and say the following:

“I’m sorry if my joke offended you. I was only trying to build off the previous joke. I hope you can forgive me.”


Not only is this apology weak, but your friend is even more upset as a result of your half-ass apology.

How could this apology be crafted differently? There are three problem areas, which we’ll break down to better understand how one can go about crafting the proper apology.*

1. Don’t Say “If”

Let’s take the first part of the apology:

“I’m sorry if my joke offended you.”

By saying “if”, it may appear you’re casting the blame on the offended party and not yourself. The rational is, “perhaps if my friend wasn’t so sensitive, he wouldn’t have taken offence to the joke in the first place.”

You messed up — not your friend. By taking accountability, you can more authentically apologize to your friend.

See a few more examples how “if” can sink into our apologies:

  • “I’m sorry if I hurt you”
  • “I’m sorry if you interpreted that as offensive”
  • “I’m sorry if you felt that way”

Drop the “if” and say things as they are.

2. Don’t Justify Your Action

Let’s take the second part of the apology:

“I was only trying to build off the previous joke.”

You might have a good reason for explaining away your wrongdoing. While it may feel right to explain or justify your joke, it won’t remove the pain your friend experienced.

Remember, the intention of an action doesn’t nullify the pain experienced by the recipient. If somebody is hurt, take accountability and fess up. Trying to explain your reasoning may not always be the best idea, unless emotions have quelled and there’s room for further dialogue.

3. Don’t Make It About You

Let’s take the third and final part of the apology:

“I hope you can forgive me.”

You shouldn’t apologize to relieve a burden you’re carrying. Apologizing isn’t about about letting the wrongdoer off the hook. Apologies are about the victim, not the culprit.

There’s a chance your friend may not be ready to forgive you. If your apology isn’t accepted and you get upset, that means you were apologizing for your own well-being.

Apologize to support your friend, not to make yourself feel better.

Apologizing The Right Way

The best strategy for any apology is to be as straight forward as possible. Let’s rework our original apology:


“I’m sorry if my joke offended you. I was only trying to build off the previous joke. I hope you can forgive me.”


“I’m sorry about what I said. That was very disrespectful on my part and I promise this won’t happen again.”

When apologizing: be gracious, be humble, take accountability, and let the other person know you’ll be better. Say things as they are. The person will more likely appreciate your honesty and your self-accountability.

We’re all human. We will mess up and will want to apologize because we’re good people.

When you voice your apology, make it count. Not for your sake, but rather for the person that needs to hear it.


*The book So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo influenced some of the ideas in this post. I highly recommend the book.

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Devin Mehra
Writer for

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