Apologize Unconditionally

Whenever people interact, they may offend one another. Such offense can prevent further positive interaction.

In most cases, it doesn't really matter whether the offense was intentional, and it doesn't matter who is "right" and who is "wrong". All that matters is that the ill feelings must be eliminated so that positive interaction can resume.

The longer the bad feelings exist, the more difficult it will be to eliminate them.

Therefore,

Whenever there is an indication that you have offended somebody, just apologize immediately and unconditionally. Then let the matter rest.

A simple "I'm sorry about that" is all that is required. Anything more detailed than that could lead to more hurt feelings. Don't say "I'm sorry you misunderstood me", "I'm sorry you feel that way", or "I'm sorry we can't see eye-to-eye on this", because that only emphasizes the fact that you believe the other person to be wrong

A non-apology such as "I'm sorry you're such an idiot" is, of course, not recommended.

If you can't bring yourself to say "I'm sorry", consider whether you can make amends through a less-direct gesture, such as giving the other party a compliment or by resolving the issue of contention in a mutually acceptable fashion.

An apology will often provoke a return apology or a further explanation from the other party. That returned apology/explanation may be worded in a way that does not please you, but in any case, just accept it and then forget the incident.

But,

Don't interpret this advice to mean that you need to agree with everyone else or that you shouldn't stand your ground when something of real importance is being argued.

ApologizeUnconditionally only when you are reasonably sure that the other party will respond appropriately to a peace offering. If the other party feels a significant offense or injury, or believes the apology to be insincere, then a simple apology may be interpreted as a brush-off or as an additional insult.


I'm not sure this is always good advice. I did a favor for a gentleman some time ago, and then I didn't hear from him for several months. When he finally wrote to me again, I let him know that I had been offended that he hadn't said 'thank you'. He sent back a note that said 'I'm sorry.' This annoyed me even more: what did he mean? Was it an expression of regret? Was he saying 'I'm sorry you have such a big stick up your ass?' I felt that he was trying to placate me without understanding the nature of the offense, rather that he was just trying to get me off his back with as little effort as possible. -- MarkJasonDominus

Sometimes you can't win no matter what you do. If the other party is offended by a simple "I'm sorry", they probably won't accept any other form of apology either.

On the other hand, a simple "I'm sorry" isn't always an apology. Communication is rich and complex; a simple "I'm sorry" can have an awful lot of meanings, and can fail to eliminate the ill feelings as is intended by this rule. The moral is that this rule isn't absolute. TheyreJustRules. -- BrentNewhall

A simple note saying nothing more than "Sorry" does not qualify as an unconditional apology. This pages advice is sound, that example is no example.
The very offer of an apology can place the recipient in the position of having to accept or reject the offered apology, a choice they may not want to be faced with, or even have thought about. Sometimes (but not every time, or even very often) the best way to apologize unconditionally is to say nothing and try to fix the problem, or to do better in future. -- DavidVincent
"Did you say I was an asshole?"
"Yes."
"Please apologize now!"
"I'm sorry you're an asshole."

"Where are you from?"
"Liverpool"
"Sorry?"
(louder) "Liverpool"
"Oh, I heard you, I'm just sorry for you"

(part of the patter of a street juggler in York!)


Often, explicitly acknowledging the other person's emotions can be much more effective and helpful than apologising (which latter can be misconstrued in a number of ways).

For example, after some heated disagreement, one might chose to say "I can see you're as mad as hell at me for saying that." This opens several avenues for defusing the situation:

"I sure am mad, you bonehead" => "I can see why you might feel that way" etc.

or "Oh, yes. OK" => "How should we go about resolving the matter, from here on?"

and so on


See also ForgiveAndForget

Contrast with NeverApologize

CategoryCommunication

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