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

Apology Language #3: Genuine Repentance

Genuine Repentance is similar to Expressing Regret in that it must come from the heart. But it must also come with a promise to change, so the problem doesn't happen again.

Even though Melvin may plan to change going forward—perhaps by re-reading every dialog box twice before clicking a button—if he doesn't say so to Bernice, she won't know that. Genuine Repentance sounds like, "I'm sorry. It won't happen again. Next time I'll re-read the dialog box twice before clicking a button. And I'll turn on auto-save. And make backups."

Apology Language #4: Requesting Forgiveness

Requesting Forgiveness asks the injured person to forgive. It lets them know they were wronged, that forgiveness is needed to repair the relationship. Even though you may believe that a request for forgiveness is implied in any apology, someone whose apology language is Requesting Forgiveness needs to hear it out loud.

An apology can be as simple as saying "I was wrong."

Keep in mind that a request for forgiveness won't necessarily be granted. The apology shows that you recognize the need to be forgiven. Whether or not the forgiving happens, however, is up to the person receiving the apology. Requesting Forgiveness sounds like, "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

Apology Language #5: Making Restitution

Finally, we come to Making Restitution. Making Restitution involves justifying the wrong, and finding a way to make amends. You gotta make up for what you did. How you make up for it depends on the person. You have to make up for it in a way that the other person values. If you say "I'm so sorry. Here is a pair of tickets to the game Sunday evening" to someone who prefers cooking to sports, you're not making amends. "Here is a pair of tickets to the filming of Iron Chef Sunday evening" will work much better.

Making Restitution might mean doing what's needed to fix what you screwed up. It's probably the most labor-intensive apology language. It also happens to be my #1 apology language. Making Restitution sounds like, "I'm sorry. I was sloppy. I'd be glad to help with the marketing report so you can go home early tonight."

Match Their Apology Language, Not Yours

Since our primary apology language is how we recognize apologies, we tend to give apologies in the same language. After all, if "I'm sorry" means "I'll make restitution," then we'll be tempted to make restitution when we want to apologize, even if the other person doesn't care about restitution, but does care about hearing us say, "I was wrong."

Melvin's top two apology languages are Making Restitution and Requesting Forgiveness. He's saying "I'll fix the problem. Please forgive me." Those aren't a match for Bernice. Her top apology languages are Expressing Regret and Accepting Responsibility. She just wants Melvin to say, sincerely, "I feel really ashamed of my screwup. It was my fault." She'll say "Of course I accept your apology! It's all right! Let's go down to the soda shop and share a Tofutti eclaire to make up." She doesn't even need him to fix the problem.

When making an apology, use the other person's apology language, so they really hear you. If you don't know someone's apology language, try all 5: "I'm sorry. I feel awful about what happened. I was wrong and I take full responsibility. Here's what I'll do differently in the future, and here's how I'll make it right, now. Can you forgive me?"

When you're receiving an apology, be sensitive to all 5 languages, not just your own. Even if someone isn't using your preferred apology language, they may be quite sincere, using their own. Listen for it. An apology is a special act, meant to make things better. Learn to give and receive apologies in a way that people can hear, and that repairs and strengthens your relationship.

I'm Stever Robbins. I help young professionals with the skills, negotiation, and organizational savvy to accelerate their careers. If you want to know more, visit www.SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!


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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