For A More Powerful Apology, Match A Person's 'Apology Language'

For a More Powerful Apology, Match a Person's

We all mess up from time to time, and when it affects someone else, it's good to apologise. But people have different ways of apologising. When saying you're sorry to someone, it might help to stick to their "apology language."

Photo by geralt.

In some ways, we all communicate differently. The way I express sympathy, regret, or love might not exactly match up to yours. Let's say I spill coffee on your shoes and dryly say, "Sorry. I'll buy you new shoes." That may work for some people, but others might expect a little more. Restitution might not matter as much to them as regret in an apology.

You may have heard of Gary Chapman's The 5 Love Languages. The title admittedly sounds cheesy, but the concept itself is pretty insightful. Essentially, it involves showing your partner you love them the way that matters to them most. And that's the same concept behind Chapman's "5 Apology Languages," which he and psychologist Jennifer Thomas write about in their book, When Sorry Isn't Enough. Based on their research, they found that people have five ways of saying sorry:

  1. Expressing regret: The apology is focused on emotion. It expresses regret, guilt, or shame.

  2. Accepting responsibility: The apology admits fault.

  3. Genuine repentance: There's a promise to change.

  4. Requesting forgiveness: The apology lets the person on the receiving end allow the relationship to be repaired.

  5. Making restitution: Includes a plan for rectifying the situation.

When you've known someone for a while, you probably have a decent enough idea of what their apology language is. When you do, you can edit your apology to fit their language better. When it's a coworker or someone you don't know very well, it might be a bit more difficult.

In this case, consider writer Stever Robbins' suggestion to be mindful of all five languages when you're apologising. Of course, many times, people are likely to accept your apology even if it doesn't fit their definition of what an apology should be. This is just a method for being a little more sympathetic.

On the flip side, it might also help to remember these languages when you're on the receiving end of an apology. If someone isn't using your method, they may be just as sincere using their own.

Check out more of what Robbins has to say about these languages at the link below.

How to Use the 5 Apology Languages [Quick and Dirty Tips]


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