‘I am sorry.’ – Three words that are not always easy to say. The right timing plays an important role when apologising for something wrong you have done. 

Before we speak about timing though, let’s quickly check whether it is really necessary to apologise. We are all usually apologising too much – ‘I’m sorry for this, I’m sorry for that!’ – many times when things were not even our fault. 

If you are sure that this time it was you who did something wrong and you regret it, then the timing of your apology matters. 

Consideration 1: Don’t rush!

In many situations, a quick apology makes sense – for example, when you accidentally bump into someone in the street. However, in other situations, a quick apology can come across as insincere. Before making an apology to someone you care about, ask them how they perceive the situation and understand how they feel about your wrongdoing. 

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes; would you accept an apology when you are still mad or hurt? Probably not and you might even get angry. 

Allow the other person some time and space to process what has happened and calm down. Depending on what it was, this can take some hours, days or even weeks. In case your feelings also got hurt, the other person involved might need to reflect to be able to also apologise to you once you get to speak. 

While some time passes, the person who got hurt or upset by your actions/words will gain insight on why you have done or said what you have done or said. The more information comes to light, the better the other one will understand you and your mistake. 

Not rushing things allows you to take some time for yourself to think about what you would actually like to say; you might want to write down your apology to organize your thoughts and bring it across the way you want to. 

Even when you genuinely regret what happened, it can be tough to apologise. 

Consideration 2: What to include in your apology? 

Well, there is no general answer to this question as the content of an apology always depends on what actually happened. 

Those four parts should be included in your sincere apology for sure: 

  1. Acknowledgement – You acknowledge what you did/said wrong 
  2. Explanation – You explain what happened from your point of view
  3. Expression of remorse – Be open about regretting your mistake 
  4. Repair – Make up for what you did/said as much as possible 

Your apology might not bring about the expected outcome and that’s okay. Remember that an apology expresses your will to take responsibility. By acknowledging your own wrongdoing and apologising for it, you can gain self-confidence and a sense of compassion. 

We are all human and that means that we all make mistakes sometimes. Apologising is an effort towards better communication, learning from mistakes and growing from experiences. 

Consideration 3: It’s never too late!

Are you wondering whether you took too much time before making an apology? The golden rule is: It’s never too late. 

Sometimes, the other person might wait patiently for your apology. Another time, the other person might have left your life in the meantime or for some other reason, an apology might not be possible anymore and now you find yourself struggling how to amend the situation. 

Instead of seeking forgiveness by apologising, you might have to come to terms with what happened yourself. A good friend, relative or your counsellor/therapist can support you in this process. Feel free to reach out. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in trauma, addictions, migration, sexuality, and eating disorders.