Can you say, “I’m sorry: will you forgive me?” without excuses or self-justification? If so, you’re above average. Human pride hates to admit itself capable of real incompetence, selfishness, or thoughtlessness: it feels so much better to cast a little blame, even when that borders on the ludicrous. Take these candidates collected by Reader’s Digest for Lamest Excuse Ever Uttered:

“I have to attend several birthday parties in July and August, so I won’t be around to spend any time with you.”

“We knew we wouldn’t be able to pay next month’s rent, so we decided to not pay this month’s rent either.”

“I’m not drunk … hic … the horse is!”

The fun in hearing others make fools of themselves is limited, though. More often, listening to self-justification attempts is simply boring.


Many authority figures, including parents and teachers, are doubly hampered by pride when it comes to apologies. It’s tempting to worry that “the kids won’t respect me anymore, and they’ll use it as an excuse never to listen to me again.” In reality, what most often happens is that the kids know you’re wrong, and rather than respect you for standing your ground, they’ll harbor contempt for your pigheadedness. They may even start to regard you as a fool or a liar (insisting “I didn’t do anything wrong” in the face of all evidence is a form of dishonesty), and as the old saying goes, “No one believes liars even when they tell the truth.”

Here, then, is how to apologize while retaining respect.

Clamp Your Mouth Shut Right After “Forgive Me”

If you keep talking, your tongue will lead you down the path of excuses and self-justification. So no extra words. No “buts.” No detailed explanations of why you did it, unless an explanation is essential to mend hurt feelings.

Speak to the Other Party as an Equal

An attitude of “I’ll condescend to apologize even though I outrank you” will show, and earn almost as much disrespect as no apology at all.

If You Owe More Than an Apology, Pay Your Debt

If you broke something, replace it. If you embarrassed someone in front of others, apologize in front of others. If your child missed an event because you were late, take the child on a special outing to make up for it.

Once It’s Over, Let It Go

Forgive yourself and don’t let guilty memories hamper your future relationship. And if your child tries to rub your nose in your having been wrong last time, say firmly, “I believe I’m right this time, and if it turns out I’m not, we’ll deal with it then.”


Do Try to Minimize Mistakes

Besides apologizing for your gaffes, learn from them. Don’t be the person who apologizes for the same thing again and again, until everyone is convinced that “She’ll never change, and doesn’t want to.” If you have a firmly entrenched bad habit, make a solid plan for changing it, even if that requires professional help. Making up for mistakes is essential, but not making mistakes is even better.