How to say sorry

Saying sorry can be tough. It's sometimes difficult to admit you've upset someone, and it's normal to be worried about bringing up the issue again, even if it's to apologise. To get your apology right, it's worth knowing why saying sorry is important and some tips on apologisingIf your apology hasn't quite worked, don't give up. Sometimes accepting apologies, especially if you're really upset, can take a bit of time.

This may be helpful if:

  • You are feeling guilty over something but don’t know how to say sorry
  • You’re scared of owning up to something you did
  • You have apologised, but got a bad reaction from your apology

Back of boy with arm around girl

Why say sorry?

Apologising can be awkward and difficult. Depending on why you want to say sorry, you might have some hesitation. If you’re worried that the other person won’t forgive you, remember that apologising is still better than refusing to admit anything is wrong. Saying sorry is also hard if you don’t believe that you’ve done anything wrong. In this situation, try thinking about the impact of what you have done on the other person, and remembering that they are hurt. Your apology is a way of helping the other person and maintaining your relationship.

How to make your apology effective

Spell it out

It might sound obvious, but the first part of apologising is to clearly describe what you have done and say that you are sorry for this. It might be helpful to rehearse exactly what you are going to say before you apologise. If you want to say sorry, but feel too anxious, you could think about writing an apology letter. 

Show you are sorry

Showing that you regret what you have done is an important part of apologising. If possible, think about how you can fix the problem. For example, if you borrowed or broke something belonging to another person, you could replace it. However, some things can’t be fixed, such as saying something hurtful to a friend. In this instance, the best thing to do is to say that you’ll make sure this does not happen again. You could also explain how you’ll do this, so it’s more convincing to the other person. 

Acknowledge the other person’s feelings

A good apology involves describing how your actions have impacted on the other person. For example, saying “You must have felt really upset, angry and confused when I didn’t invite you to my party”. This shows the other person that you’re on the same page as them and understand why they are hurt. If you don’t know what to say here, try imagining what they are feeling, or what you would feel like if someone did the same thing to you.

Asking for forgiveness

Ask for forgiveness by saying “I know it will take time, but I really hope we can be friends again” or even asking “Is there anything I can do to make this right?” This lets the other person know that the relationship is really important to you.

What happens now? 

So, what if you’ve apologised, but things aren’t back to normal? It’s normal to feel uneasy after saying sorry, especially if it wasn’t well received. This doesn’t mean that apologising was the wrong thing to do, or that you apologised badly. Try giving the other person some time to think about what you have said, then check in with them later to see how they are feeling. Chances are, you’ll feel better once they do! 

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 26 August, 2015
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