The 2 Letter Word that Ruins an Apology

Most of us have to apologise from time to time, but using this word when you do could make yours seem particularly insincere.

If you’re like most people, I suggest it’s highly likely that you’ve had to apologise to somebody in the last few weeks. This week I’ve got a fascinating psychological insight that highlights a particular word that, if you use when you’re apologising, can make that apology seem far less authentic.

The insight comes from a psychologist’s book rather than a specific piece of research. The psychologist in question is Dr. Harriet Lerner and her book is called ‘Why won’t you Apologize?’. In it she is talks about the psychology of effective apologies and there are a number of insights, but I’ve just picked one suggestion.

And it is to avoid using the word ‘if’ when you apologise.

Imagine the last time you were the recipient of an apology: did someone say to you “I’m sorry if you were offended” or “I’m sorry if you found me insensitive.” That’s calling into question your subjective view of what being offensive or being insensitive is, it lacks authenticity, and it devalues that real, genuine apology. It doesn’t really matter if you agree or disagree with the person if you’re being genuine, so the best way of phrasing this type of apology would be “I’m sorry that I was insensitive” or “I’m sorry that I offended you.”

If you repeat those back to yourself and speak about this to your friends and colleagues, I’m sure you’ll find that the word ‘if’ devalues and makes that apology far less effective so don’t use the word ‘if’ in apologies.

I’ll be back in seven days with another Meetology Minute – exploring the fascinating science powering world-class people skills.


Jonathan Bradshaw
The Meetology® Lab


You can learn more about Dr. Harriet Lerner here




About the Author:

Jonathan Bradshaw presents and trains internationally on the fascinating psychology powering exceptional interpersonal communication. He is Founder of the Meetology® Lab and leads the company’s team of behavioral psychologists in collating and sharing cutting-edge research on exceptional people skills. As an experienced and engaging keynote speaker Jon has presented at conferences and business events in over 30 countries and is an award-winning columnist and blogger. Learn more about him speaking at your next event via or connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.