People don’t always have control over how apologies are received. Sometimes the act itself is appreciated. Other times, people aren’t satisfied with words alone. But there is one way to almost guarantee your remorse will be met with indifference: use the word “but.”
Psychologist Harriet Lerner recently spoke with The New York Times about proper apology protocol. According to Lerner, qualifying your expression of regret by offering an excuse or disclaimer often leads to a communication misfire. No matter how sincere you may be, telling someone that there’s justification for your behavior—which is what the word "but" indicates—will lead them to believe you’re not taking responsibility for it.
Lerner also advises to not direct your apology at the hurt it caused, but to the action itself; “I’m sorry you feel that way” doesn’t address the incident itself, which is what apologists should be trying to own up to. Trying to rationalize behavior by saying you had a bad day or your parents were cruel to you as a child is also diluting the message.
If you want an apology to stick, saying “I’m sorry” without any qualifiers is the way to go. If the injured party wants to complain or elaborate on why you’ve wronged them, let them. After “sorry,” silence is the next best cure.
[h/t The New York Times]