I recently received such a heartfelt apology from Clarins and it reminded me how seldom companies and individuals actually get this right. Sadly, our own pride is often the biggest obstacle to apologising. It can be daunting, as it forces us to look at ourselves, our own flaws, and to look beyond them to the person we’ve hurt. But anyone who has offered up a real, solid, true apology will agree that it is cathartic. In doing so, you release yourself from the very pain, discomfort and shame you’d been avoiding. As Martha Beck says, “The knowledge that one is heard and valued has incredible healing power; it can mend even seemingly irreparable wounds.”

Let’s take Key Steps together and master the art of the apology so we can…

‘be the difference that makes the difference.’


  1. Determine whether you should apologise. This can be a tricky one especially if you think that what you said or did wasn’t so bad, or perhaps you even feel that the other person is in the wrong. Despite this, it’s still important to apologise when you’ve disappointed, hurt and/or angered someone. “To preserve or re-establish connections with other people, you have to let go of concerns about right and wrong and try instead to understand the other person’s experience,” says Dr Siegel, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. This ability is one of the keys to emotional intelligence because it requires empathy, which underlies healthy, productive relationships of all types. You are not necessarily apologising for your actions (as you might not have done anything wrong) but for how your interaction made the other person feel..For example: If a client is disappointed that we can’t provide them with the dates they require, we don’t really have anything to apologise for – it is no one’s fault. But we can still say, “I am so sorry that we can’t assist and are disappointing you.” If my husband thinks that the way I spoke to him (about something we disagreed on) was antagonistic and I really do not agree. I can say, “I am really sorry that the way I spoke to you felt antagonistic. It was not my intention. I’m sorry you feel hurt.”
  2. Ensure that your apology has all the essential ingredients. I’m sure you can imagine that the above examples only work if we are sincere and prepared to put our pride in our pocket. The 5 R’s is a great system to use to check ourselves and ensure the quality of our apology: Recognition, Responsibility, Reason, Remorse and Reparation.Recognition means seeing the person’s point of view as true and valid for them, even when you don’t agree. Remember that empathy (acknowledging the feelings of another) is not endorsement. If the other person is equally in the wrong, you are not excusing their behaviour by recognising their feelings of anger, hurt and so on. It is important that we really do our best to get into the other person’s shoes, accept their feedback and recognise how our action(s) might have adversely affected them. You cannot just say, “I apologise for whatever I did to offend/hurt you.” You need to recognise your part. This requires courage and vulnerability.
  3. Responsibility means owning the mistake you made or owning your part if the other was in the wrong too. It is about accepting and verbalising that you are aware of the impact you’ve had. No excuses! Do not blame month end pressures, a bad mood, loadshedding and so on.
  4. Reason is tricky so tread carefully here. The challenge here is to explain how the offense occurred without excusing it. In fact, sometimes the best thing to say is “there is no excuse for what happened.” If there is a good reason for the mistake / hurt caused, it might help the other person to feel better about what happened. For example, “I am so sorry I can’t get the report to you on time. I know how badly this impacts you. Our systems are down and there is no way of me getting to the information required.
  5. Remorse is about sincerity, and it can’t be faked: we know it when we hear it. We’ve all heard non-apology apologies. My 4-year-old gave one this morning when she said, “Sooooorrrrrry mommy” through gritted teeth 😊. It is important to include a statement of apology along with a promise not to repeat the behaviour.
  6. Remedy can be the trickiest one as it requires shifting our focus from ourselves – our own discomfort, embarrassment, sense of guilt and so on – to the person or people we’ve offended – their hurt, their sense of betrayal. It is about making amends and atoning for our wrongdoing. This requires us to act selflessly. A good idea can be to ask the other person how you can make it up to them. The apology I got from Clarins recently is an example of going above and beyond in making amends. I got a free gift and 25% off my next order. A sincere email apology was actually enough to keep me doing business with them but the remedy they offered to compensate me has turned me into a raving fan. I’ve shared this positive story with 100s of people.
  7. Let’s put it all together and take care with your wording. Here’s a good example: “I am so sorry that I hurt you when I lashed out during a meeting. I was feeling under pressure but that is no excuse. I am really really sorry. I value our relationship and promise to think before speaking and work harder at not taking my frustrations out on you. How can I make it up to you?” Here’s a poor example: “Okay, I apologise. I didn’t know this was such a sensitive issue for you.” As you can see, practising the 5 R’s and taking care with your wording really can…

be the difference that makes the difference.’



NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly  ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.

Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 25 years’ experience in leadership development and organisational transformation. Her PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that was published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of numerous business schools and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. In 2020, Sharon was inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame, which is a lifetime achievement award, recognising excellence and her contribution to the field.

Sharon is one of only three women in South Africa to have achieved the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – the Oscar of the speaking industry. She is also a COMENSA Master Practitioner (CMP), a qualified Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (MCCT™) and an accredited Global Virtual Speaker. Sharon is also a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner.

Most important to Sharon is that she has become known for her genuinely caring manner, practical and transformational approach, and for providing valuable tools and that allow people to take Key Steps to really… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’