Being sorry is more than just saying the words. Genuine remorse makes a sincere apology, but learning how to communicate that feeling successfully is key.

An apology is an expression of regret for your role in circumstances that negatively affected someone else.

It’s a way of letting that person know you recognize the harm you’ve caused, you’re remorseful, and that you empathize with the hurt they’ve experienced.

But learning how to offer a sincere apology is essential. If you can’t adequately express your regret, your apology may not be well-received.

1. Decide on your apology delivery

Many people appreciate a verbal, in-person apology. It can demonstrate your willingness to face embarrassment or confrontation to show how important the apology is to you.

Not all apologies are best suited for verbal deliveries, however. If you’re concerned you won’t express yourself clearly, for example, or might not be able to express yourself fully, an in-person written apology may be better.

Why you’re apologizing can also influence the most effective delivery method. According to a 2022 study, verbal apologies may be more effective in restoring trust when competency is the underlying concern, while written apologies may be more effective for integrity-based offenses.

2. Be specific in your apology

When it’s time to make your apology, specificity is helpful.

According to Clarissa Delgado-Salas, a licensed clinical social worker from Pasadena, California, going into the details about what happened and why you’re sorry shows you’ve reflected on your actions and understand why your actions were hurtful.

3. Take full responsibility

A sincere apology also involves showing you’ve taken responsibility for your actions.

“This demonstrates that you are aware of the consequences of your actions and are willing to accept responsibility for them,” says Michelle English, a licensed clinical social worker from San Diego, California. “Make no excuses or shift the blame to others. Instead, apologize for your error and any harm it may have caused.”

4. Avoid conditional language

When apologizing, conditional language like “but” statements can inadvertently shift blame and convey insincerity.

For example, saying, “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t have done that if…” can be interpreted as you feel you had no choice in the matter, or something else carries more blame.

“In therapy, we emphasize transparent and direct communication, free of conditional clauses,” Delgado-Salas says. “This maintains the sincerity of your words.”

5. Use body language

Words aren’t the only tool that can show sincerity in an apology. Your body language is there to back up — or contradict — what you say.

According to a study from 2021, apologies were considered more sincere when accompanied by non-verbal signals of remorse, like averted gaze.

Other body language that can convey remorse includes:

  • concerned, furrowed brow
  • pained facial expression
  • lowered head
  • hunched shoulders
  • hugging yourself
  • clasping your hands
  • touching your hair, face, or arms

6. Listen and validate

If you’ve wronged someone, it’s natural for them to want to express an opinion about your behavior. They may show emotions, such as:

  • anger
  • disappointment
  • frustration
  • sadness
  • disbelief

Part of a sincere apology is showing empathy, the ability to understand and relate to what someone else is going through. Listening and validating helps you show empathy.

“Validating someone’s emotions does not imply admitting fault or agreeing with them; it simply means recognizing and empathizing with their feelings,” English explains. “You must put yourself in their shoes and attempt to comprehend how your actions have affected them.”

7. Offer to make amends

Making amends, known as restitution, is an effort beyond your apology to make up for what happened.

The appropriate restitution will differ depending on the circumstances, but it’s typically an act of kindness or generosity toward the person who was harmed.

According to a 2020 study on apologies and restitution, the benefits of an apology are increased when paired with making amends.

8. Show consistency in change

There’s no rule that says an apology is over once the words are spoken.

A sincere apology includes your follow-up actions and intentions, demonstrating you’re actively trying to improve or not repeat a mistake.

“In the realm of apologies, ongoing consistency is the key to rebuilding relationships and ensuring the durability of your commitment to change,” says Delgado-Salas. “The commitment to follow through on promises, especially those of behavioral change, is integral to rebuilding trust and demonstrating sincerity.”

A sincere apology can be powerful. According to the 2020 study on apologies and restitution, a sincere apology not only reduced the receiving party’s negative feelings, like anger, but it also improved stress levels and calmed heart rate.

Offering a genuine apology shows you care about that other person. A study from 2021 found sincere apologies were instrumental in healing relationships, especially if those relationships have been struggling.

There’s no template for sincerity, but how you offer an apology can be a big part of whether or not it’s perceived as genuine.

Examples of well-delivered apologies include:

  • “I’m sorry I broke the decorative dish from your grandmother. I know it was a family heirloom and has been passed down through the generations. I won’t throw the ball for the dog in the house anymore. I know I can’t replace the dish, but let me make it up to you.”
  • “I am so sorry for forgetting your birthday. I know you were looking forward to it, and there’s no excuse for me to forget. When you’re ready, let’s celebrate it anyway, on any day you pick and in any way you want. I’ll be better about remembering important events.”

Remember, just because you offer a well-constructed, sincere apology doesn’t mean you’ll be forgiven.

Apologies are often necessary when you’re responsible for causing someone harm. They’re a way to demonstrate your regret and your desire to rebuild trust in a relationship.

“In the world of human connections and emotional well-being, a genuine apology is a profound and healing act,” Delgado-Salas states. “It embodies self-awareness, empathy, and the commitment to change, making it an invaluable skill in navigating the complex tapestry of our lives.”

What makes a sincere apology is the presence of genuine remorse. Without that, even the best-delivered apology may not bring you forgiveness.