How to Use the 5 Apology Languages

Apologies only work if you make them in a way that can be understood. Get-It-Done Guy explains the 5 languages of apology and how you can be sure to use the right one every time.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #351

The power of apologies is legendary. At least, it is if you've listened to my episodes on how to repair relationships, on how to take responsibility when you screw up, and on how to criticize someone without looking like a jerk.

But they've got to be done right, or the other person won't even hear them. In the workplace, a proper apology might make the difference between being seen as a team player or being considered "that guy" (or "that girl" or "that intersex").

See also: How to Apologize (and Be Forgiven)


Bernice and Melvin are not having a good morning. They just finished taking inventory for Bernice's plant store, Green Growing Things. Melvin, in his glee, went to close the inventory program. When the program asked, "Do you really want to exit without saving the data?" he clicked Yes by habit. Oops. An entire day's work, lost.

Bernice is going ballistic. Melvin is trying his best to apologize, but nothing's working.

"I promise I'll do the inventory on my own this weekend," he cries.

"Yes, but you aren't even sorry!" she yells.

"I am too! Please forgive me!"

"Forgive you? Forgive you? Why should I forgive you when you aren't sorry?"

"But I am sorry!"

And round and round it goes.

From the outside, it sure seems that Melvin is offering an apology, and that Bernice is refusing to accept it. But that's not what's happening at all. They just recognize apologies differently. In the book When Sorry Isn't Enough, Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas share the results of a study they did of how people give and receive apologies. The bad news: There are 5 different ways people apologize. The good news: There are only 5.E

Apology Language #1: Expressing Regret

Expressing Regret is Bernice's primary apology language. To her, an apology is first and foremost emotional. Someone truly feels bad about what they've done. An apology must show that someone sincerely feels regretful, guilty, or ashamed.

Melvin says "I'm sorry," but his voice tone says "Panic!" Bernice is picking up on his tone, not his words. She wants to know there's real regret behind his apology, not just that he can say the words. Expressing Regret sounds like, "I feel awful about what I've done." (said in an appropriate tone of voice)

Apology Language #2: Accepting Responsibility

Bernice's secondary apology language is Accepting Responsibility. She wants to hear that the other person knows it's their fault. This is as simple as saying "I was wrong." But as simple as it sounds, many of us just can't say those words. We can say "You were wrong." We can say "Politicians are wrong." But we can't quite say "I was wrong."

But that's all that someone with the Accepting Responsibility apology language wants to hear, a simple admission of fault. Melvin's apologizing, but he's not saying that he was wrong. Accepting responsibility sounds like, "I'm sorry. I was wrong. It was my fault."


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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