How To Accept An Apology Without Saying It’s Okay (4 SIMPLE STRATEGIES)

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Recognize the Reasons to Apologize

When you've made a mistake or hurt another person, there are many good reasons to apologize. By apologizing, you are able to:

  • Acknowledge that you were wrong
  • Discuss what is allowed and not allowed in your relationship
  • Express your regret and remorse
  • Learn from your mistakes and find new ways of dealing with difficult situations
  • Open up a line of communication with the other person

A sincere apology can also bring relief, particularly if you have guilt over your actions. An apology alone doesn’t erase the hurt or make it OK, but it does establish that you know your actions or words were wrong and that you will strive harder in the future to prevent it from happening again.

Not apologizing when you are wrong can be damaging to your personal and professional relationships. It can also lead to rumination, anger, resentment, and hostility that may only grow over time.

Research suggests that some of the major reasons why people don't apologize are that they aren't really concerned about the other person, apologizing threatens their own self-image, or they believe that an apology won't do any good anyway.

Why Apologies Are Important

03. Agreement

This is a subtle but ultimately essential piece for answering an apology. Most of the pain that lingers in a relationship is because people don’t agree about what happened. It’s rare, of course, that two people will ever have the same perspective on a given event, but that’s not what I mean by agreement. Agreement is when two people understand that something happened, it sucked, it damaged the relationship, but we fixed it together. We understand its impact, and we’re united in our willingness to put it behind us. We’re committed to protecting one another from something similar in the future. Without agreement, the stories of the conflict can come back to linger, they gain power, they inflict pain—and more pain. Minimally, both parties should at least agree that they don’t want to entertain that pain.

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Own Up to Your Part, Not Theirs

Remember that when you apologize, you're taking responsibility for your part of the conflict. That doesn't mean that you're admitting that the entire conflict was your fault. People are often afraid to apologize first because they think whoever apologizes first is "more wrong" or the "loser" of the conflict.

Giving an apology even when only a small part of the conflict was your responsibility is OK and often healthy. It allows you to establish what you regret about your own actions but confirms your own boundaries as well.

It's important to be fair in your apology, both to the other person and to yourself. Don't accept all the blame if it isn't all your fault.

Granting Forgiveness is Good for You

Accepting an apology goes beyond graciousness and professionalism. When you extend forgiveness, you help repair a potential rift in your relationship. And, you’ve helped preserve another person’s dignity. Moreover, research shows that there are benefits to forgiving someone. According to the Mayo Clinic, letting go of grudges can help you reduce stress, lower your blood pressure and improve your immune system. So consider “letting it go” and acknowledging their apology. Who knew that a simple “I accept your apology” may have health benefits for you as well?

Step 2: Decide if You Are Ready to Accept the Apology

Once you’ve heard the apology, you get to decide whether you’re ready to accept it. It’s kind and respectful to acknowledge a person’s apology when they offer it, but you are not obligated to accept it. These questions can help you decide how to respond.

Does it seem sincere? 

Body language can betray a person who isn’t apologizing sincerely. If they seem impatient or have a defensive posture, they may not be giving you an honest apology. Eye contact, a sincere tone of voice, and lowered head are signs of humility and remorse. 

Does it include “but” or “however”? 

These two words can often cancel out an apology. It’s lip service to try smoothing over the problem. Anything a person says after, “but,” or, “however,” does not fully acknowledge their actions or your pain. 

Do they acknowledge the pain they caused you? 

Some people apologize by saying how awful they feel and don’t say much about the person they’re speaking to. An apology that recognizes your emotional pain is worth remembering. You need to know the other person honors your emotions before moving forward.

Do they accept responsibility for their actions? 

This part is critical. For an apology to be acceptable, the other person must show they understand how their actions caused you pain. When you hear them accept personal responsibility, you have a chance at repairing the trust between you.

Do they want to move quickly past the apology and return to normal? 

If they skip through the apology and try to act like everything’s normal, step back and take a breath. Their apology may be an attempt to get out of an uncomfortable situation and save face. You have reason to be doubtful.

Are you ready to move forward? 

It is 100 percent OK if you aren’t ready to accept the other person’s apology at the time they offer it. Even if they are sincere and ready to make amends, you may need more time. And if you aren’t able to accept it now, say that clearly. 

» MORE: Save loved ones from stressful decisions. Create a comprehensive funeral plan in advance.

 

Paving The Way To Forgiveness

The person who caused the harm is likely going to need to put in some work to help facilitate forgiveness.

That work might be personal growth of their own, changing behavior to ensure that the harm doesn’t happen again, or fixing any damage that their actions might have caused.

An apology with no action behind it is essentially meaningless.

Words are the easiest thing in the world, because you can tell anyone anything for any reason at all with little effort.

Actions speak louder because they tend to require effort and sacrifice, which someone who is motivated to seek forgiveness will willingly engage in if they genuinely want to mend the harm that they caused.

The process can be smoothed by giving yourself time to assess the situation and decide if there is anything that can be done to help with your healing.

Don’t expect the other person to just know what they did was wrong.

They may not realize that their actions were hurtful.

They may not find those particular actions hurtful if the roles were reversed.

Everyone has different emotional tolerances.

How To Accept An Apology With Grace But Set Boundaries At The Same Time

Apologies usually come with heavy emotions and hurt feelings. It can be difficult to put these aside and be graceful when someone approaches you to apologize.

While you should always try your best to accept an apology with grace (if you feel you are ready to), you should also use it as an opportunity to set boundaries going forward, or chances are that the same thing might end up happening again.

You can accept an apology with grace and set boundaries at the same time, and here is how.

Listen

Give the person the respect of you listening to them apologizing. Even if you aren’t completely ready to hear them say the words “I am sorry”, appreciate that it is probably difficult for them to apologize, and let them speak their peace.

Avoid interrupting or correcting them as they apologize. If there is anything you want to say, save it for when they are finished speaking. You will have time to say your bit once they are done and giving them the respect of listening to what they say shows maturity.

Decide How To Move Forward

You will need to decide whether or not you will be accepting their apology. You don’t even have to make this decision there.

Take your time to decide whether or not you forgive them. You are never obligated to accept an apology, so don’t feel pressured to doing so.

Make sure that the person acknowledges the pain they may have caused you, and that they were not trying to make excuses for their behavior in their apology.

You could always point out how you feel to them, as they might not fully understand how their actions impacted you.

Don’t Skip Back To Normal

Not everything is fixed by an apology. They have to put in the work necessary to make it up to you, or to avoid having the same situations happen again.

Do not be tempted to go back to life the way it was before they hurt you, because things don’t change if things don’t change!

Give yourself the grace and respect to not fall back into bad habits, and let them know that you will not be accepting previous behavior moving on.

They need to know that you are serious about protecting yourself from being hurt again, and you need to know that as well.

Accept Or Do Not Accept

Once you feel ready, you should let them know how you feel. Accepting their apology, if it is right in the situation, will help both of you move forward, but just make sure you are ready to do so.

Let them know that you accept their apology, and whether or not you can offer some forgiveness yet. You are not obliged to do anything, and don’t let them pressure you to do so.

Set Your Boundaries

When you let them know that you have accepted their apology, you should also let them know what your boundaries are going to be moving forward.

Take your time to work out what you want your relationship to be like in the future, and what boundaries and actions can be put in place to ensure this.

They can either accept these boundaries or not, that is completely up to them, as long as you hold yourself in high enough regard to know that you are worth more and that you will be moving on if they choose not to keep within the boundaries you set.

Keep a check on how they act, and remind them of these boundaries if you notice any negative behavior happening. You owe it to yourself to only keep positive influences in your life!

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Step 4: Give Your Response

You aren’t obligated to accept an apology just because someone offers it. It’s up to you to decide whether the time is right. The following list offers up several kind and respectful responses you can give depending on your situation.

It’s OK

We often say, “It’s OK,” far too often when someone apologizes. It’s easy to say and helps us avoid feeling uncomfortable. But often, a more detailed reply is better for addressing emotional pain and restoring trust. Reserve the, “It’s OK,” answer for times when the other person’s actions have almost no effect on you or create a minor mishap. 

Acknowledge their effort while remaining uncertain

It takes guts to offer an apology, and this effort is worth recognizing. You can acknowledge a person’s effort to apologize without accepting it or offering forgiveness in return. Don’t feel pressured to accept an apology without being sure that you’re ready. 

Thank the person for reaching out to you. If you aren’t sure about your next step, tell them you need more time to think about it. Regardless of their reaction, remain calm and kind.

Accept the apology

When you’re ready to accept someone’s apology, you can move forward with the relationship. It does not necessarily mean you have forgiven them or put the problem behind you. That step may take more time to unfold.

By accepting the apology, you acknowledge that what the other person offered was sincere and with positive intent. You believe they are willing to repair the trust between you and make up for what they did wrong. 

Don’t accept the apology

You may not be ready to accept their apology right now, or you may not believe it’s sincere. If you can’t accept it, thank them and state that you appreciate what they’ve said. Some emotional wounds heal slowly, so it’s reasonable to take your time with this if you aren’t sure yet.

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