How to Apologize Properly: Seven Succinct & Sturdy Steps.

Let’s talk about apologizing properly. Some people are too prideful to apologize when they err (including me, sometimes). That’s so wrong. But even for those who know they are in the wrong and want to make things right, they often still get making things right wrong.

Imagine my shock, when l was scheduled to have a meeting with one of the top CEOs in Africa and l kept waiting and waiting and waiting and… this person wasn’t showing up. So I signed off from Zoom about 20 minutes later and sent a message: “I hope you’re okay…” etc. etc.

It wasn’t until the next day when this leader sent what was supposed to be an apology. All this person said was, “Apologies.”  End of story. What?! I was shockprised. “Is that how to apologize?” I soliloquized. Then l began to understand why only a couple of weeks earlier one of my close friends who is also a top executive of a Ghana Club 100 company shared with me how one of my daughters had totally shocked him. Apparently, she had stepped on him or something of the sort (l forget) but that wasn’t the source of the shock. It was how she apologized. That so astonished him and he said to himself, “I’ve got to learn how to apologize this way.” He is now actually teaching his family that this is how to apologize properly henceforth, when you do something wrong.

This is the way to apologize, for acts of commission (doing what you’re not supposed to do) and omission (not doing what you’re supposed to do) alike:

  1. Mention the fellow’s name: “Anyele.” “Frankie.” Mentioning a person’s name calls their attention, makes it personal, and connects us to the caller.
  2. Spell out your offence: “l missed our appointment” or “l did not put the money in the bank like you had asked me to”
  3. Acknowledge you erred, openly admitting it: “l am wrong”
  4. Let them know you regret it, verbally articulating it: “I am sorry”
  5. Ask for their pardon: “Please forgive me.”
  6. Wait for their response (hopefully they can process right there and then and also give you a response in the affirmative).
  7. Thank them (no matter the response).

So here’s an illustration of how my CEO friend should’ve apologized: “Yaw. I totally missed our appointment and stood you up. I am wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.” This is the way to apologize properly. Just saying “apologies” or a half-hearted “oh sorry” in a huff doesn’t cut it. I am learning to do this better and better because I realize that sometimes when I’m not really really sorry I don’t want to go through this process and certainly don’t want to make the above string of statements.

Giving the other person the opportunity to forgive you by saying “please forgive me” is very empowering for the offended party. It kind of disarms the offender simultaneously too. I hope you’ll practice this and that true transformation will transpire because you are truly deeply sorrowful for what you did wrong even if it’s the slightest thing. Remember, “Ms. ABC, I did XYZ. I am wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.” Then await their response and thank them. This is the proper way to apologize. Some even go an extra length to state what they’re going to do to make things right and/or renegotiate the promise.

I am wary of people who are not self-aware enough to recognize they’ve done wrong, whether upon self-reflection or via feedback. And I don’t trust those who won’t say sorry after they’ve been made aware of it, and do it seriously and sincerely. I won’t do business with them because they have low integrity. Of course ,the first layer of integrity is keeping one’s word. But when inadvertently through extenuating circumstances one is unable to, to keep one’s integrity we still need to acknowledge that our integrity is unraveling (not just pretend we never gave our word in the first place) and then still honour our word by apologizing in the above manner and renegotiating.

Apologizing properly is not a trivial matter. It has saved personal relationships, families, communities, organizations and even nations. Let’s begin to take apologizing properly and sincerely seriously: on a personal level, then in our families and communities, ultimately in our corporate world and national life. Now, go and do likewise and teach the people at your workplace, on your team, and even your spouse and cubs to do same. That’s the way to go.



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