We often gather with our closest family and friends during the holiday time. And it just so happens that those relationships are often the most challenging ones, due to past or present impacts that you and your loved ones may have had on each other. Pain, judgments, and resentments can get in the way of being open and present with each other.

Do you struggle finding resolution in conflicts with people you are close to? When we connect with mourning over our own actions, and share that with the person who was affected, it can help to resolve conflicts, promote healthy connection, and help everyone to be more present to the relationship.

In this short video, I show you a way to apologize that gives you a better chance of being heard. The advanced tip toward the end helps you understand what else might be needed before expressing the feelings of regret or mourning involved in an apology after our actions have impacted someone else.

I and my team are here to support you in being courageous. We want to support your efforts to rebuild damaged relationships by trying this compassionate approach over the old right vs. wrong approach to saying sorry. Please post a comment below letting us know how this was helpful and what happened when you tried it.

If you enjoyed this, you might want to also check out our video on How to Say Thank You During the Holidays.




16 thoughts on “How to say I’m sorry and express an apology

  1. This is a great idea, however role playing a few examples would be helpful. I’m afraid you may have lost a lot of your audience in the first couple minutes.

  2. Hi Alan,

    thanks for the useful tips…hope to be able to put them into practice when the time comes 🙂

    Have a wonderful holiday time with your loved ones too!

  3. Hi Alan:

    Thanks alot for all that you have shared with us. A powerfull tool by the way.

    Otherwise, happy holiday.

    With love,

  4. Hi Alan,

    Thank you for the video. I really enjoyed every moment of it.

    During my time of watching, I learned from you that a sorry becomes effective and works when the offender first helps walks with the offended through the pains caused as a result of the offense. The same is true with forgiveness when you the offended person know that the one who offended you has given you sorry from his heart because he has felt with you the pains of his action. This sounds to me like like empathy before saying sorry and not saying sorry while you have not identified with the feelings of the pains. The sorry doesn’t work in that case I heard you say.

    Would you be comfortable to do the practice of getting to the sorry in the process after punching me in the face?



    1. Hi Amos. Yup, you got it.
      Thank you for taking the time to watch and to leave me your comment. It contributes to my need for connection! 🙂

  5. The challenge I have faced, especially after delving into NVC (though it has changed things immensely!) occurs when the receiver of my apology holds right/wrong thinking…They are (as most of us are) so entrenched and conditioned in right/wrong thinking that it is a knee jerk reaction.

    I’m guessing, however, they just need LOTS of empathy.

    The other challenge I face is in the language of NVC, especially in regards to giving empathy. One person I’m thinking is aware of NVC, recognizes when I’m “talking” NVC (“are you feeling ______”) and gets very frustrated and has expressed feeling more of a disconnect. That’s frustrating b/c I’m trying to connect…

    And maybe it’s the “trying” that’s the problem, b/c I’m one step away from true empathy 🙂

    1. Hi Jeremy. You got it. The purpose of NVC is true connection. The model (“formal NVC”) is an excellent way to practice some key distinctions and train our attention to learn the difference between what happened and our story about it, especially in a workshop, classroom, or practice group setting.
      In a real conversation I want to focus on the connection, not on “getting the words right.”

  6. There are some great insights here..However, in this current day and age, I strongly advise EVERYONE to NOT GO APOLOGIZE directly to anyone for anything without some careful considerations…there are LAWS regarding communication in many circumstances. Just because one is not aware of them does not mean they may not break them and be held accountable! See my site (Check List for Chicks and Guys and other articles about relationships, communication, conflict management). I hope to make a national site to inform everyone of US-All and the rest of the world of good ways to Practice communicating..and to have support people in terms of making sure one is ‘following the law’. In many situations ‘making contact’ IS breaking the law! Who knew? This can be the case if in any public facility which has liability in terms of ‘privacy’ if for instance in a medical facility. I have tried to offer talks on mediation at a library and they said “No Way’ (and indicated they would not want personal issues aired in a group–if people started to ‘share’). Even at school, complaining about particular people (not just a staff member in general) can and has been grounds for costly lawsuits. That’s where everyone needs to know the limits of what can and cannot be said and to whom, how, etc…in this current day and age. When one gets to a court situation (divorce, custody, etc, any kind of domestic relationship whether partners, housemates, etc) can have ‘no contact even through a 3rd party) terms if there are protective orders. …Maybe we can network to clarify these critical issues, and not lose the value of NVC etc and find creative ways to allow for ‘online or over the phone consults’ with each party voluntarily calling in for info, message relay, etc. There are programs for those who can agree legally to use them such as ‘family wizard’ or just e-mails, ideally keeping a mediator in the loop of all communications..Also, there are googlevoice accts for free which one can use to call in messages to oneself (or another) to practice apologizing or actually communicating to another an have a recording of it as ‘evidence’ of what was said–and what wasn’t. That’s just an added tip. Listening to one’s own’s thoughts to reflect and feel heard can be very helpful and clarifying for all involved..

  7. Hi,

    I like that one needs to have empathy before offering an “apology”. I was under the impression that an apology has an underlying right/wrong message in it. Doesn’t Marshall recommend offering a “regret” statement vs an “apology?”

    1. Hi Allen!
      Yup, you’ve got it.
      The life-alienated, life-disconnected (“jackal”) apology has an underlying right/wrong message.
      The other type of apology — life-connected, life-serving (or “giraffe”) apology — could also be known as a statement of regret or sincere mourning.
      That was point #1: distinguishing between these two.
      Point #2 was about how before receiving an apology, empathy from the “apologizer” first could go a long way.
      Thank you for taking the time…

  8. Thank you, Alan!
    I n excited about connecting with empathy and mourning before expressing my regret, and I’d love to hear more about the longing to let someone know how much pain I’m in, and having that heard (+ receiving empathy), rather than not communicating it for fear of further triggering that “right/wrong” belief, which can activate further speaking from their pain.
    Would you be willing to say more, as I feel keen to honour my need for authentic connection (rather than “harmony”, at the cost of that full openness between us)?

    Thank you

    1. I’m guessing you might need empathic listening from others before you can go back to hear the pain stimulated in the person to whom you want to express an apology.
      Then once you hear their pain and are connected to the impact, you can share your sincere mourning.
      After that, they might want to know why you did what you did.
      At that point, offering compassion to that part of you that did that, you can express the needs that were alive for you when you acted.
      Does this resonate for you, Amitashuri?

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