Sometimes Sorry IS Enough: On Relationship Repairs

It was six years ago, but I still remember how infuriated the receptionist made me feel.

The recession was at its deepest trough about the time I finished graduate school and after months of searching I landed an interview for my dream job.

I checked in with the receptionist and took a seat. Even though I told her the correct details, she thought I was interviewing for a different position, with a different company in the same building. I sat in the lobby across from that receptionist for not 10, not 20, but 45 minutes, all the while she assured me that the interviewer was held up in a different interview and wasn’t quite ready for me.

Finally when her mistake came to light, she called the correct person and said, “Your interviewee is here.” She didn’t mention how long I had been there. Looking at her desk, she gave a curt nod in my general direction and said, “Sorry for the delay.”

Sorry for the delay?? Really?

Of all people, I understand getting details confused. It was an unfortunate mistake but I’m sure I’ve made worse. What made my blood boil was how she did not take any responsibility for “the delay.”Needless to say, I didn’t get that job.

Contrast that to a more recent experience I had as a customer. Something that should have taken weeks, took months. I was irritated about having to wait so long and I let the person know. He acknowledged my frustration and apologized. An amazing thing happened in that instant- my anger vanished

When someone makes a big mistake, I often hear the old adage, “Sorry isn’t enough.” In my experience, fixing the problem isn’t enough. Sometimes a simple sorry is actually all I want.

Taking ownership for how you have contributed to someone’s pain or inconvenience is not fun. It’s kind of humiliating and goes against human nature to self-protect and self-defend. It’s hard, yet the benefit to relationships is immense.

Not all apologies are created equal. Some are helpful and can repair broken relationships while others have the opposite effect. Here are some common types of apologies:

Non-specific-no-personal-ownership-of-wrong-doing Apologies:

“I’m sorry if anything I did bothered you.”

“I’m sorry for the delay”

It’s-not-me-it’s-you Apologies:

“Sorry if I did something wrong that I wasn’t aware of, but you are the one who…”

“I’m sorry but you gave me no choice.”

Sorry-but-I’m-right Apologies

“I’m sorry, but I had good reason to do what I did.”

“I’m sorry, but this is how I was taught.”

Since-I’m-wrong-about-this-I-must-be-worthless Apologies

“I’m sorry. I guess I can’t be trusted. I should just never try… anything… ever!”

Not-in-my-domain-of-control Apologies

“I’m sorry for his behavior, and that it’s hot outside, and that your car broke, and that I couldn’t help you more.”

*Basic-level apology:

I’m Sorry

*Advanced-level apology:

I’m sorry. I messed up. That must have been hard for you.

*Elite-level Apology:

“I’m sorry that I ________(insert specific mistake). It must have felt _______(insert specific emotion here).

*recommended types

Perhaps, sorry isn’t always enough, but it is a good place to start. And it just might be enough to repair a relational rift.

With my sincerest apologies,


Comment below with your take on/experience with giving or receiving apologies of all types! Is a genuine apology enough for you or would you rather just see a behavior change? I’m curious!


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