Tips for Effective and Meaningful Apologies

Apologies are not necessarily sufficient to repair harm, and they can still be an essential and
meaningful step in repairing harm. An ineffective or insincere apology, however, often causes
additional harm. If you are seeking to repair harm by apologizing, this guidance adapted from
the University of San Diego Center for Restorative Justice may be very useful.

An effective apology includes the following elements:

  1. What happened: A description detailing the harm caused. This demonstrates that you understand the harmful impact of your behavior.
  2. Your role: An acknowledgement that you were responsible for the offense. Avoiding expressions that deny, displace, or minimize responsibility is essential.
  3. How you feel: An expression of remorse or regret for causing harm.
  4. What you will stop doing: A specific commitment to what you will stop doing in order to prevent causing further harm.
  5. What you will start doing: A specific commitment to what you will begin doing differently in order to repair the harm you caused.

When offering an apology, remember that while the person who caused harm can meaningfully offer an apology, the recipient should be empowered to decide whether or not to receive the apology. If you offer an apology, be prepared that no matter how meaningful the apology is, the intended audience may not be ready to receive it. Nonetheless, making an apology can also be meaningful for the person crafting it, as it offers an opportunity to reflect and change behavior.