Beyond Words: Strategies for Delivering Heartfelt Apologies

By Published On: February 8th, 2024Categories: Mediating Solutions813 words4.1 min read

My daughter is quick to say, “I’m sorry”, but she rarely means it. For her, it is a way of ending a conversation, brushing off feedback, or otherwise indicating ‘leave me alone’. She’s 14. I get it. But this tendency to try to move on without making change or amends does not end simply because we reach the age of maturity.

While in everyday interactions this quick manner has become commonplace, the juvenile action of offering a meaningless apology is also used when real harm has been done. The experience involves both our workplaces and our personal lives. Far from creating healing, this non-apology feels dismissive. As a result, it leads to resentment, distrust, and often dislike of the person emitting it.

If you have been on the receiving end of this type of apology, you know what I mean. It’s hurtful and unpleasant. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Most who engage in this behavior choose to short-cut the interaction out of their discomfort in taking ownership, or their aversion to sitting with someone else’s pain. Often, these individuals focus solely on their intent – not the impact of their actions. As a result, these same folks don’t understand why the injured party harps on the situation or becomes antagonistic with them. They become angry or frustrated too.

A meaningful apology is the key to healing. It allows the recipient to feel heard and understood, supports them in releasing any anger, sadness, or frustration, and it paves the way to a healthier relationship. It is always a product of head and heart, and sometimes, also hands.


When we are hurt or feel wronged by someone with whom we have a lasting relationship, we need them to understand the reasons we feel hurt or injured more than we want the words, “I’m sorry”. In our desire to feel safe and to believe that their painful actions will not recur, we instinctively feel the need to be understood. The expression “I’m sorry” feels meaningless until it is given with the clarity of what one is apologizing for.

To get it right: Focus on the other person’s feelings and the impact they experienced, not your own actions or intentions. Begin with them.

Ask questions. Be open to learning how you hurt them, and what they would have wanted instead. Demonstrate genuine curiosity as you seek to learn why the other person is sad or hurt. Only with this clarity and understanding will your apology feel sincere and have the depth and meaning we need to move forward. Once you gain clarity and confirm your understanding, you will find the other person is more open and willing to hear your intentions or explanations. With their permission, share these. But recognize attending to the “head” is not sufficient for an apology to have depth or meaning.


Being understood is important for any apology. But so is the feeling that we matter. We want the other person to feel concerned that we were hurt or harmed and to show a desire to make it better. Without that demonstration of care, the words “I’m sorry” seem intended only to appease us, not to repair. And they fail to do so.

To get it right:  Show you care by speaking to their hurt and validating their feelings. Avoid the temptation to explain your part.

After listening to the injured party, focus your attention – and your apology – solely on the damage or pain they suffered. Find out what they might need (from you) to move on. Your goal is to repair the damage and to alleviate their concerns about the situation re-occurring.


In our personal relationships touch is an important aspect of demonstrating care. As you apologize, try holding the other person’s hand and softly looking them in the eye. Your touch will communicate what words alone cannot. It says, “I’m with you. You matter to me.” It re-establishes the feeling of connection that was damaged when the harm took place, and it assures them that you are not afraid to see their pain and you accept your part in causing it. As you hold their gaze, and their hands, you may see them release the pain or negative energy they have been holding. Touch is invaluable in re-establishing a feeling of genuine connection.

A meaningful apology is the biggest key to healing. It allows the recipient to feel heard and understood – supporting them in releasing any anger, sadness, or frustration. It paves the way to a healthier relationship.

When both our head and our heart feel satisfied, an apology feels sincere and is easy to accept. We can move forward with renewed trust and a deeper more meaningful understanding of each other. With head and heart, our apologies are accepted, and our relationships can be repaired.