The five languages of apology

Look, I’m sorry okay! Why won’t you just let it go? Most of us would rather go down fighting as opposed to turn ourselves over to an apology, right? That simple gesture requiring us to own our part and take responsibility for how we might be contributing to an issue. For some reason, most of us find apologising incredibly hard to do, probably because it feels dangerously close to giving up and giving in. When we are expecting an apology, we often only get it through gritted teeth and only after we have exhausted every other conceivable option to sort things out.

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Although delivering an apology can feel like leaping from a tall building, somehow I think we might all agree that to be on the receiving end of an apology is life giving and life changing. But who knew that there was more than one way to apologise? Most of us have heard of the five languages of love (gifts, time, words, affection and acts of service), but have you heard of the five languages of apology? As is the case of an expression of love, an apology can so easily get lost in translation. It turns out that with love languages, we tend to have an in-built preference for a couple of languages over the rest. And although any apology is a good apology (beggars can’t be choosers), for an apology to have maximum impact it is best delivered in a language that the recipient can fully understand and appreciate. Take a look at this.

Five languages of apology (by Dr Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas)

1. Expressing regret – ‘I am sorry’

If you prefer this kind of apology you will be tuned in to the words “I am sorry”, along with the sincerity that goes along with it. It will be especially meaningful to you to hear an apology accompanied with an acknowledgement of the pain, inconvenience and disappointment that you might have experienced. You will want whoever has hurt you to take full responsibility for their actions, without deflecting the blame or offering excuses.

For example –
I can’t believe I forgot. You and our family are so important to me. I am sorry.
I should have been there for you, I’m so sorry I let you down.

2. Accepting responsibility – ‘I was wrong’

If you prefer this kind of apology you will be especially tuned in to the words “I was wrong”. It will be especially meaningful to you to have the other person fully admit their mistake, without self-justification or excuses. Just the acknowledgement that the other person made a mistake is enough for you to feel satisfied.

For example –
If I had thought about what I was doing, I would have realised it was wrong.
I let you down when you needed me most, I made a terrible mistake.

3. Genuine repentance – ‘I want to change’

If you prefer this kind of apology you will want to hear the other person say, “I want to change”. It will be especially meaningful for you to have the other person take responsibility for what they have done, along with a plan and tangible steps for action so that it will not happen again.

For example –
You can bet I won’t forget this again! Next time I’m going to circle this date on my calendar and put a reminder in my phone.
I promise I’ll notice and celebrate your accomplishments in the future. I have learnt a hard lesson.

4. Making restitution – ‘What can I do to make this right?’

If you prefer this kind of apology you will want to hear the other person say, “What can I do to make this right?”. It will be especially meaningful to have the other person make restitution by taking practical action, even financial action, to put things right and basically equalise things between you.

For example –
What can I do to regain your respect? Saying ‘I’m sorry’ does not feel like it is enough.
What more can I say or do to mend this friendship?

5. Requesting forgiveness – ‘Please forgive me’

If you prefer this kind of apology you will want to hear the other person say, “Please forgive me”. It will be especially meaningful to have the other person take the risk of potential failure and rejection in asking for forgiveness. This type of apology is also especially meaningful as it is seen as a reaching out for relationship to be fully restored.

For example –
I know you are hurt, can I ask your forgiveness?
I blew it, can you please forgive me.

It seems only fitting to finish this article off with an apology, so I’m sorry. Sorry if for all this time you were thinking, like I was, that an apology was just three magic words of “I am sorry”. Sorry if all those apologies that you have made in the past have fallen on deaf ears until now. When we learn to craft our apologies to meet the needs of the person who is on the receiving end of them, then this simple relationship tool can become a complete game changer, both at work and at home.

If you want to explore your language of apology, take this online quiz to find out more:


About Author

Jo Batts

For Jo, relationships are at the heart of whānau. Jo is our Family, Relationships and Marriage coach at Parenting Place working with family, sibling and relational dynamics. She’s a counsellor, a strengths coach, a parent, a partner, and the leader of our relationships and marriage programme. Jo's down-to-earth approach helps people to develop the practical tools to build healthy relationships for everyday life.

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