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<xTITLE>The Power Of An Apology</xTITLE>

The Power Of An Apology

by Manie Spoelstra
February 2011 Manie Spoelstra
“I am sorry that I sent you this article.

I sincerely apologise that I expect you to use your valuable time to open it and to even read a few words!

My apology also for thinking that you may be interested in my negotiation programs, and thinking that you may even consider spending your valuable time and money to attend one of them.”

(By the way, if you are still reading, it already proves that an ‘apology’ does get your attention! So let me abuse this ‘power’ a little further:)

“I am sorry that I underestimate your present skills and intelligence to even contemplate that I could add to your knowledge or add anything of value!

Lastly I am sorry that you used valuable and expensive data time to download this email and that you or your company had to spend hard-earned cash to pay for the download.

I am sorry that I wasted your valuable electricity in the process. Of course I also apologise to the environmentalists, since coal is mostly used to produce power. There is climate change and, of course there is huge strain on your eyes)! I am flipping sorry for that!

I admit that I am not sorry for everything in this article. Perhaps there are some good sentences in the third paragraph on the next page. I really think so! "I'm sorry" These two little words can make or break a relationship. It is human nature to make mistakes, but making an apology is not.

There are some who find it easy to apologize and there are some who find it extremely difficult. Admitting your mistake is a bitter pill to swallow, yet being able to do so often makes one a better person, more or less. You are aware that you did something wrong, which is why someone is upset with you. Deep in your heart, you know that you owe the person an apology. Do you apologize?

The power of an apology cannot be undermined.

A sincere apology is genuine, and it means that you are truly and honestly sorry for what you've done. On the other hand, an insincere one could only offend the other person and make matters blow out of proportion.

Excuse or Apology?

Stop making excuses when you apologize. An apology becomes more sincere if you're a man (or woman) enough to take full responsibility for your actions. Being defensive only shows that you don't admit the wrong that you've done and could end up in a heated argument between you and the other party.

A sincere apology needs a sincere promise. When apologizing, make a sincere promise and try to stick to it. Saying "I'm sorry" can be hard, but people hold more respect for a person who knows how to apologize. Besides, it is easier to forgive a person who makes a sincere apology than one who doesn't care at all.

Requirements for an apology to be accepted

  • It must be done by the culprit himself preferably
  • The apologist must really have remorse and be genuine (no fake apologies!)
  • The apologist must not apologize and repeat his wrongful action soon again!

Emotional benefits of an Apology

  • A person who has been harmed feels emotional healed when he/she is acknowledged by the wrongdoer
  • When we receive an apology, we no longer perceive the culprit as a personal threat
  • An apology helps us to move past our anger and prevents us from being stuck in the past
  • Apology opens the door to forgiveness by allowing us to have empathy for the wrongdoer

An Apology benefits both sides

  • The debilitating effects of the remorse and shame we may feel when we've hurt another person can eat away at us until we become emotionally and physically ill. By apologizing and taking responsibility for our actions we help rid ourselves of self-blame and guilt

  • An apology has the power to humble even the most arrogant. When we develop the courage to admit we are wrong and work past our resistance to apologizing, we develop a deep sense of self-respect
  • Apologizing helps us remain emotionally connected to our friends and loved ones. Knowing we have wronged someone may cause us to distance ourselves from the person, but once we have apologized we feel freer to be intimate again.
  • And there is another subtle benefit: Since apologizing usually causes us to feel humiliated, it can also act as a deterrent, reminding us to not repeat the act

Apology: Strength or Weakness?

J F Kennedy, Ghandi, Martin Luther King (jr) and some others have stated a number of times:

“Only the strong can afford to be weak. In fact the strong, by being weak, becomes even stronger!”

It is so sad that so many leaders and individuals do not practice this principle. The words: “I am sorry”; “We want to apologise”; I made a mistake” or “I admit you were right”, could be your strongest first move when you try to negotiate, mediate or persuade someone to accept you again and to listen to the rest of your story!


2004; J Rayner; ‘The Apologist’, Atlantic Books, London 2004; A Lazare; ‘On Apology’; Oxford University Press, U.K.


Professor Manie Spoelstra has published numerous articles and books on negotiation, general management, strategy formulation and participative management, and has often consulted to many leading companies on these topics. By regularly attending advanced seminars at institutions such as the Harvard Center for Management Research in Boston and the Stanford Business School in San Francisco, and by continuing to teach negotiation at the Witwatersrand Business School and the Rand Afrikaans University, he has maintained his intellectual prowess and has ensured that the courses the International Negotiation Academy offer are consistently of the highest international standard.

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