If you're going to apologize, do it right.

Melissa Locker
September 18, 2017

It’s never easy to apologize, but there’s one word that can make it even harder.

The next time you find yourself in the position of having to make amends, make sure to avoid the word “if” because that lowly, two-letter word can do more damage than no apology at all.

“The challenge of apologizing is not just a matter of saying the right words, because apologizing with the wrong words can feel worse to the hurt party than no apology at all,” author and psychologist Harriet Lerner, PhD, wrote over at Psychology Today.

Phrases like “I’m sorry if you were offended” or “I apologize if that seemed rude” can make the person you’re apologizing to feel like it’s their own fault for being upset by your poor behavior. That pesky two-letter word can come across as condescending or patronizing, or make it seem like you are accusing them of having thin skin—none of which have any place in a true apology.

Instead, Lerner recommends removing “if” from your apology vocabulary entirely and instead addressing the situation in a more forthright manner that puts the blame squarely on your own shoulders. She suggests phrases like “The comment I made was offensive” and “I’m sorry I was insensitive, and I want you to know that it won’t happen again.” In short, phrases that put the blame where it belongs—on the person that messed up.

The next time you find yourself needing to make an apology, think carefully about what you do and do not say while making amends. No ifs, ands, or buts about it—and especially no ifs.