What to Say When… You Accept an Apology

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise and I welcome your thoughts and questions. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversations here.

Photo by by Maria J Aleman

Real Simple magazine asked:


Kathy Hobson of Irving, TX replied: “I recently received an unexpected apology (forgiven and forgotten, the apology was much appreciated and priceless.” (“Your Words”, June 2009.)

Sue likes to spend time with her friends but she feels like she’s the only one in the group who is really committed to their “girl time.” One of the youngest members of the group, Kim, kept failing to show up at their gatherings while giving little or no notice to Sue. Later, Kim apologized to Sue, saying, “It must be hard to be friends with me. I’m terrible about keeping our appointments. I have too much going on.”

Sue felt awkward during Kim’s apology and she didn’t know what to say?

What to Say:

Most people like to receive needed apologies but they aren’t always sure how to react to them. If you, like Sue, are fortunate enough to receive an apology from someone, what should your response be in return? Must you offer the tried and true reply, “It’s OK.”?

Actually, no.

If their actions weren’t OK at all, consider replying this way instead:

  • I appreciate your apology.
  • Thanks for saying that.
  • This is a step in the right direction.

In a nutshell, here is the right way to accept the gift of an apology: Receive it with eye contact and gratitude. Let them know what it means to you. Then and only then, you might dialogue about what else you would like to see or hear from them.  (I would tread lightly here. They got an apology, how do you NOT sound ungrateful if you have further requests after the apology – in fact, I think this is another blog post, but I would advise to remove this line from this paragraph here and bring up Kim and Sue later – you can link back to this for reference.)

Bonus Tip:

As one who has had to apologize quite often, I’d like to add this: I feel great relief when the listener says that my apology was nice but not necessary. If this is the case, go ahead and let the apologizer off the hook. Go beyond, “Don’t worry about it.” Really let them know that you appreciate their consideration but hold no ill will toward them and that this is not a point of contention for you. We are always glad to know when we are not in the dog house.

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