How To Not Accept An Apology

How To Not Accept An Apology

With grace, integrity and honesty.

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There was a pattern of aggressive behavior.

A co-worker would intimidate someone, have the behavior addressed by a supervisor and offer a forced apology. Once the apology was accepted, the pattern would restart.

I told the latest victim I didn?t think we were required to accept the apology.

She responded that she didn?t think I understood socialization.

Fair enough.

But there?s a balance between etiquette and maintaining integrity. Not every ?I?m sorry? can bridge the chasm between apology and forgiveness.

Simply apologizing isn?t always satisfactory. When wronged, what you want is a clear path to meaningful change, an assurance that the offending act won?t be recreated. Apology is the point where that path can be created.

In the example of our co-worker, the ball is clearly in our court right after the apology is made ? when we decide to accept the apology. Blindly accepting the apology for the sake of ?being nice? is a missed opportunity to break the pattern and set the criteria for a better one.

Instead of letting the opportunity pass, don?t accept the apology.

At least not without conditions.

Refusing an apology is not a trick to inflict guilt, hold a grudge or gain control. It is not the path to resentment. It is a tool to realize a path to a better situation.


Deciding to reject an apology doesn?t make you a lesser person, compromising your integrity does.

If you accept a disingenuous or inadequate apology, you are suggesting that you agree with something that you do not. That is an inconsistency between your thoughts and speech; a compromise of your integrity.

?Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.?

Mahatma Gandhi

You are the one who will suffer. The other party will be absolved of their actions because you accepted their apology. You, however, will know that things are not really settled; feeling like there are volumes left to be said but that the door has been closed. It?s a sense that reopening the door would be gauche.

When you accept an apology but feel somehow weakened and conflicted afterward, you shouldn?t have accepted the apology when or how you did.

If you?ve had that feeling, ask yourself: What is more deleterious? Re-opening a wound, carrying a grudge or gracefully describing conditions for the acceptance of an apology?

When an apology has been offered, the acceptance is on your terms. People don?t get to offend you and then decide how or when your offense stops. That?s not their call, it?s yours. One can?t rob a bank and then tell the judge they?ll only be staying in jail for a few days.

They committed the offense, remember?

Deciding what terms the apology will be accepted under isn?t inelegant or petty, it?s shrewd.

Accepting an apology, acknowledgement and forgiveness

An apology doesn?t equal forgiveness any more than hearing ?I love you? means you feel loved.

When someone apologizes, they?re saying they?ve done something perceived as wrong and they know it. When you acknowledge their apology, you?re saying you know that they know it. Accepting that an apology has been made (acknowledging the apology, or ?Thank you for apologizing.?) does not mean the person has made amends. It certainly doesn?t indicate a clearer path to correction.

Admittedly, the terminology is splitting hairs, but these terms communicate very different things. Accepting an apology (?I accept your apology?) implies that you are forgiving someone. Acknowledging it (?Thank you for apologizing.?) shows that you are aware they are making an apology.

Understanding the difference is critical to refusing the apology ? you can acknowledge that someone is apologizing without suggesting that they are forgiven or that the wound has been healed.

You can acknowledge the apology and have terms for forgiveness. What makes amends depends on the situation and the sincerity of the apology.

Apologies that include insight into the problem, corrective actions and accept responsibility resonate as sincere. True apologies avoid blame, never use the word ?but? (as in ?I?m sorry, but?) and aren?t done to make the apologizer feel better.

We doubt apologies that seem contrived or forced, are non-specific or have no clear path for improvement.

In many cases, a sincere apology is all we want. People make mistakes. Things happen, we get hurt but we understand ? all we want is validation and acknowledgement in the form of a sincere apology. In these situations, we may choose to fully accept the apology, forgive and move on.

Other situations may require a ?forgive, but don?t forget? approach.

But in other cases, we want restitution. Righting a wrong on the job, for example, may mean that processes or procedures are changed. It may mean that people are fired or have their job modified in some way. The ability to complete our work takes priority over a personal relationship.

In this instance, the apology is a useful tool to modify future behavior.

Thank, acknowledge and validate

?Always assume positive intent.?

Indra Nooy

The earlier point about socialization is valid and delicate.

Socially, it?s graceful to accept an apology. It feels awkward to break social etiquette ? but an apology can be acknowledged respectfully, used to move toward change and leave you as the bigger person. It doesn?t have to be harsh.

Saying ?It?s too late to apologize?, ?I refuse your apology? or ?Apology not accepted.? will make you look petty and retaliatory. They will not help you move toward a better situation.

Thanking someone and acknowledging that it takes humility to apologize can. Even if you don?t believe the apology, it?s better to ?assume positive intent? and treat others in a way that shows you?re thinking the best of them, despite a bad situation. Validate what they are doing by verbally recognizing it.

If someone were to say ?I?m sorry for?.? or ?I?m asking for your forgiveness about?? you could express gratitude by saying ?Thank you for offering your apology and recognizing that this was hurtful to me. I appreciate that you?d like to be forgiven.?

This is not the same as accepting an apology or offering forgiveness.

Through this reply, you are acknowledging that they are apologizing and that they have insight into the consequences of their actions. Notice that you didn?t forgive the person or accept their apology, you?ve acknowledged it. Essentially, you?ve labelled what they?ve done ? nothing more.

If you feel this was a sincere apology that doesn?t require more action on their part, you could conclude this statement with ?I forgive you.?

If you are not satisfied, the apology represents an opportunity. It?s the jump-off point where you describe what would need to be done to move from acknowledgement to forgiveness.

Provide a solution

Once acknowledged, attach a solution for forgiveness that is suitable to you.

You?re answering the question: What would make this debt up to me?

An employee doesn?t complete their work by the deadline and apologizes to you. To provide a solution, you might say ?Thank you for apologizing. Do you think that if a new deadline were made today at 6:00, you?d be able to get the work turned in to me??

You acknowledged the apology and set the terms of forgiveness.

The priority at the workplace is doing your job, not being best friends with all of your co-workers. You are justified in managing transgressions in a just-the-facts, all-business sort of way. Describing the limits of what behaviors are acceptable is simply setting boundaries for how you wish to be treated.

That means that you set the terms of forgiveness in a way that makes future transgressions less likely.


?There is brutality and there is honesty. There is no such thing as brutal honesty.?

Dr. Robert Anthony

People who claim to be ?brutally honest? use honesty as an excuse to be cruel to others. The same thing holds true at the time of the apology.

Receiving an apology is not the time to insult, inflict guilt or create indebtedness, even if you feel the even if you feel the wrong cannot be forgiven, or cannot yet be forgiven.

You cannot use words to deliberately harm someone at the time of their apology and then claim it is because you were ?just being honest?, or ?can?t help it ? I?m brutally honest? or *cringe* were ?just sayin?.?

Even when acts are unforgivable, we have an opportunity to walk away as the bigger person. Remember, they were the one who committed the offense. If we feel that the act can?t be forgiven or can?t be forgiven yet, we are justified in expecting the patience of the apologizer.

When we cannot and do not forgive, we are being honest with ourselves. We are maintaining our integrity.

When we tell someone we forgive them but we do not, we are lying to them.

?Thank you for offering your apology. I would really like to forgive this, but right now, I cannot ? what you did was very hurtful to me and it will take some time to heal. In the meantime, we need to function as co-workers and I would prefer to keep any interaction between us as business professionals only. Thank you.?

When an apology is offered, we find ourselves at a crossroads of opportunities where not every path leads to true forgiveness. We have the chance to leave that crossroads gracefully, with integrity, clarity and a path for change ? or, we can leave with stones unturned.


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