Forward thinking: The non-apology apology


Every day, or so it seems, we learn of an apology from a prominent executive, celebrity or political figure in response to an indiscretion of some sort. It’s sad, but true.

Those in the public eye have an unfortunate tendency to apologize only after they have been found with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar. When this happens, I often find myself wondering, are they truly apologizing for their conduct, or simply because they were caught?

To make matters worse, in my opinion, the wrongdoer will often use the passive voice in his or her apology. It goes something like this: “Mistakes were made,” rather than, “I made a mistake.” It is obviously easier to use the passive voice in such situations, but doing so relinquishes any sense of personal responsibility.

In short, it is a non-apology apology and is, therefore, not very meaningful.

Unfortunately, it is not just those in the public eye who readily offer an insincere “I’m sorry.” I would hazard a guess that you have over heard or been told “my bad” or “sorry about that” by someone for whatever reason. The truth be known nearly all of us have probably fallen into the trap of offering up the non-apology apology at some point in time.

I bring the subject of the “non-apology apology” up because it has really been bothering me for quite some time. I have reflected on things that have been said to me–materials that I have read, conversations that I have had with friends and associates. So, I now offer for your critique some guidelines that I have drawn up for myself on giving and accepting apologies. Perhaps you will find them helpful in your own life.

Let’s begin with when you owe an apology.

WHEN YOU OWE AN APOLOGY:  Admit your mistake or indiscretion quickly and take personal responsibility for it. Don’t say, “we made a mistake” when you mean “I made a mistake.” Apologize first to the person you have wronged because that is the person who matters most. Do it face to face, if possible.

Always speak from the heart. An insincere apology is as bad as no apology at all. People can tell when you really mean it. Oh, you may fool a person on occasion, but in your heart of hearts, you know you’ve lied or misled him or her.

Realize that “sorry” is just a word. However, for the word to be meaningful you must do your level best to avoid repeating the wrong. This means coming up with a strategy and sticking to it. Understand that a meaningful apology is a sign of integrity, not weakness. I repeat, it is a sign of integrity.

Anyone can blame others, or deny that he or she did anything wrong, or lie about what really happened. Only a strong person with integrity can own up to their wrong doing, and only such a person commands true respect.

But what about when you are truly owed an apology?

WHEN YOU ARE OWED AN APOLOGY: If someone has done something wrong and apologies to you, accept the apology graciously. However, you are also justified in expecting the person to avoid repeating the behavior that required an apology in the first place. You may even need to make clear to the other person what the consequences will be if he or she makes the mistake again.

It is a form of “tough” love.

“Three strikes and you are out” is fine for baseball, but in other areas, it may only take one strike for someone to be tossed out of the game. Some wrong doings are so serious that you should not grant a second chance.  In contrast, in the case of relatively minor slip-ups or mistakes made when task at hand is unusually difficult, it might be unfair to not allow multiple opportunities to get it right.

In my life experience, I have discovered that if the apologist continues making the same mistake over and over again, you may have to say, regrettably, “I cannot, in good conscience, give you another opportunity to slip up.”  In other words, the season for that person’s presence in your life is over for you. It’s time to move on.

In 1970, the film “Love Story” was released. (I know that was a long time ago.)

The dialogue included the memorable line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  Even if this were true, which in my opinion is not, there are many other areas when we do have to say we’re “sorry” and mean it.

The challenge for all of us is to admit we’ve blown it and do our best to ensure that we do not do it again and forgive others who sincerely regret their poor judgment. No one is perfect — or have you not noticed? Most of us have the capacity to right our own wrongs and accept the imperfections of others. In all cases, be loving and be fair.

Until next time…

Loren (1)–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is currently a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.


  1. Mr. Simmonds — You have written with much wisdom. There are many times in my own lifetime when I wish I could take back what I have said or done, or at least apologize.




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here