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What’s next when your apology is not accepted

When you try to apologize and you aren't successful, it's time to be reflective, not combative. Learn more from a reputation expert on how to understand why your apology failed to connect.

6 min read


What's next when your apology is not accepted

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An apology, even a sincere, well-meaning one, is not always accepted. One’s name, credibility and reputation are mud. Forgiveness and trust are not granted. What then?

It can prove helpful to go through a detailed, yet simple process to increase the odds of your apology eventually being well-received.

Start with introspection and research of the dispute, ongoing conflict or crisis to create a specific problem statement of your situation. Do this first through a short, yet thorough, list of smart questions that you ask yourself with curiosity and uncompromising honesty.

Also, ask respectful questions of the party who is not unforgiving. Be humble and patiently seek to gather facts and learn from them.

Questions could look something like the following:

  • What is at the root of your error with someone that they feel angry to the point they are not offering forgiveness? What communication, actions or inaction were not received well, and why so? Put yourself in their shoes.
  • What are people communicating to you — verbally and with other behaviors and/or facial expressions and body language — about their dissatisfaction?
  • What do they expect now from you to heal negative emotions and make amends?
  • Have you courageously, humbly and clearly expressed genuine remorse? Does the upset party feel you have done so?
  • Have you apologized, with sincerity, listened well to those who are upset, shown patience and kept your composure, while taking the arrows of criticism?
  • Have you committed your full intention to make things right with them, also specifically asking what it would take for them to feel “whole” again?

If this strategy has been done skillfully and thoroughly, an accurate, precise problem statement can be created that will detail the conflict, what caused it and all that ethically and specifically needs to transpire to solve the problem.

Then it’s a matter of overcoming uneasiness, fear, pride, annoyance, anger or contempt and bringing yourself to do it, keeping the big picture in mind.

It’s helpful during the entirety of this process to remember this quote from Brandon Cox:

“Respect people who trust you. It takes a lot for people to trust you, so treat their trust like precious porcelain.”   

If you fracture or break something — tangible or intangible — that is precious to you, what is your usual response? Do you show indifference, or do you invest in painstaking effort to repair it?

To increase the likelihood that apologies will be accepted, either immediately or soon afterward, understand the critical importance of first mastering your own emotions (the only ones you can control). This is critical for success. Don’t let emotions become an impediment to improving a relationship and situation. Use the mind as an ally, not an enemy.

Champions in any endeavor calm themselves in chaos and stress and control any negative self talk or chatter in their head. These same champions quickly, reliably regain focus and emotional balance. They focus on succeeding in the moment, on the very next step. They block out distractions. They have humble confidence they will overcome and succeed. The stress is part of the process. You can do all this, too.

From there, consider yourself an explorer whose responsibility it is to be patient, humble, sincere, likable and persistent to find that unmet need or needs through polite, curious, unselfish questioning.

If verbal or written curiosity is conducted with unselfish motives, you will bring down emotional walls of divide and move the needle forward in a contentious interaction toward improvement and mutual benefit. People will be more open, so you can determine clearly what they need to experience and feel to restore their emotional balance with you.

So, conduct “champion mindset and practices” — find out with patience and kindness what the unmet need or needs are by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions and patiently, attentively listening.

When you persevere with commitment, yet without aggression or negative attitude, then in most cases the information, needs and sticking points about offenses or betrayal are highly likely to emerge. Politely verify your findings to learn to address the right problems instead of assumed ones.

Make it easy for people to give you more of what you want. As William Ury wrote about in “Getting Past No,” it’s valuable to help work through conflict by building people a golden bridge, meaning, “involving them in devising a solution so that it becomes their idea, not just yours. It means satisfying their unmet interests.”

Building a golden bridge also involves helping people “save face,” a common challenge for many before they can begin to consider offering forgiveness. You do this best with humility and giving them agency in devising a solution for healing the rift.

Invite them to either suggest or co-create a remedy with you that will meet the needs that they have expressed and which you confirmed as what they really want. This isn’t done through manipulative tactics but through genuinely caring about other people and their very real, emotional needs. Care about them so they might care about you.

To summarize the pathway to pursue:

  • Exhibit poise, conduct skillful stress management, pursue unselfish curiosity, and focus on people’s humanity.
  • Accurately identify and learn about unmet needs and then verify.
  • Invite the person or people to suggest a solution that can work for them and you and collaborate to meet those needs.
  • Build a golden bridge to make it easy for them to accept your help and experience the intention of your best character.

Do this so they can see you in a more positive light, vastly improving the likelihood that they will, of their own volition, accept your apology.


Michael Toebe is a reputation, crisis management and communications analyst and practitioner, serving and helping individuals and organizations. He writes at Reputation Specialist Essays and Red Diamonds Essays, both on the Medium platform.

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