A well-written apology note is a must-have civility skill. Everyone should develop this skill in their kindness toolkit. Learning to apologize the right way is just one of the ways you can fix the hurt in our imperfect, human world.
There are some fine lines you need to tread. If you make too many excuses, you will come off as insincere. Too vague? Same deal. The death knell, however, is sending an apology via text. It’s too easy.
If you really want your apology to count, send a written note, and follow these steps.
A vague “I’m sorry” won’t cut it. That smacks of someone trying to get back into good graces without paying the dues. The hurt party wants to know that you understand what you are apologizing for. So be specific. Name your infraction:
“I’m sorry I didn’t come to your graduation party last night as promised.”
“I apologize for yelling at you during our political discussion.”
“I’m sorry my daughter pulled your plants out of your flower garden.”
Naming the hurt also helps. Imagine yourself in their shoes: what feelings might you be feeling? That’s your empathy muscle you are flexing right there. Learn to use it, and use it often in your apologies: “I can only imagine the hurt you must be feeling.”
A short explanation of extenuating circumstances is fine, but don’t overdo it. “I’m sorry I didn’t come to your graduation party last night. We found out we were exposed to COVID on Friday and I didn’t want to expose you and your family.” Perfectly acceptable.
But if you launch into a whole story, it may come across as insincere. Your reader may think you are overcompensating for the guilt you feel by piling on so many details in hopes that they feel sorry for you. Be matter of fact and don’t overdo it.
If you decide to give an explanation, come back to the point quickly. State your apology, give your explanation, then restate your apology. “I’m sorry I didn’t come to your graduation party last night. We found out we were exposed to COVID on Friday and I didn’t want to expose you and your family. But I really wanted to be there and I’m so sorry I didn’t celebrate your special achievement with you.”
Offer a fix
Whenever possible, offer a solution. “I’m so sorry I spilled red wine all over your dress. Enclosed is a check for the cost of cleaning it.” Putting your money where your mouth is can be a good solution when you’ve broken something.
Other fixes don’t have to be monetary: Spending time with someone at a future date, promising to learn from your mistake (and the book/class/discussion with an expert you’re going to pursue) or fixing something yourself can be good solutions, depending on the infraction. Your investment, whether in time or money, in fixing the hurt, will go a long way to showing them you are serious.
Words to avoid
Never, never use these words, if you are serious in seeking forgiveness, according to Amy Dickenson of the Ask Amy advice column:
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“If I offended you, I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, but [insert explanation here]…” NEVER use the word “but.”
Put it on paper
Texting and email are common ways to communicate, but not appropriate for an apology. A written apology carries a sense of gravitas and understanding of the hurt you have caused.
If you are going to miss an event at the last minute, a text or phone call should be sent to alert your host. But then follow it up with a written apology note in the mail or dropped off at their home. When applicable, you can include the hostess or host gift you were planning on bringing.
In other circumstances, a phone call or in person discussion is helpful if the problem needs some hashing out. A discussion can help you understand what recompense the harmed party will and will not accept, or to devise a plan of action. But even in that case, a written note of apology after the call or discussion will go a long way toward restoring good will.
Apology note stationery choices
A standard sized folded note is the perfect missive for your apology note. Remember our etiquette advice for where to start writing on a folded note, depending on the length of your message. You’ll want to use something with a design that has a serious or adult tone, rather than playful or childish. Some appropriate designs….
And remember, you can find Embossed Graphics stationery at your favorite local stationery store or gift shop. Shop local to support your town’s economy! You’re helping a local business owner provide jobs to your community. When you choose to shop in your town, you’re also supporting a source of community and connection for everyone. Check out our store locator to find an Embossed Graphics retailer near you.