Let me tell you about a divorce mediation I conducted with a couple ending their 30-year marriage.  “Mary” was determined to share that she had read a text on “Bill’s” phone that she obviously wasn’t meant to see. I let her vent about Bill’s infidelity and looked for any sign of regret or contrition on Bill’s face. When Mary paused, Bill said, “I already told her I was sorry.” He seemed to be anxious to change the subject. Was his apology enough for Mary?

We all apologize numerous times each day. There’s what I call the “oops-sorry” apology, when you accidentally bump into someone’s heels with your shopping cart. Also easily recognizable is what I call the “insincere” apology, which often occurs when you insist that your fighting kids tell each other they’re sorry. I can still hear my nieces sounding just like the ding-dong of a doorbell with their sarcastic, “sorry;” neither having eye contact nor sincerity with the other.

As a Mediator (and a human), I deal with relationships. I know from experience that apologies aren’t important to everybody, but they are very important to me, both personally and professionally.

I think that the best apology starts with, “I’m sorry for . . .” and then goes into detail. Ideally, the apology ends with a promise that it won’t happen again. If the apology is sincere, the person doing the apologizing is taking responsibility for his/her actions and communicating the understanding of why the apology was necessary.

Here’s an example from my own life: After having spent practically all day cooking a romantic dinner for a special guest, he arrived two hours late. His apology wasn’t excuse-driven, it was heartfelt.  He said, “I’m so sorry. I was rude and selfish to you, and seeing how much effort you put into this dinner makes me feel even worse.” That was a good apology. He was accountable for his mistake and truly contrite about the effect it had on me.

The worst apology, in my opinion, is what I like to call “the passive-aggressive non-apology.”  In another example from my own life (different guy), I was told: “I’m sorry I slammed the door, but you really pissed me off.” Take note of this. The guy wasn’t actually sorry that he slammed the door because he believed it wasn’t his fault.

Some people just don’t apologize at all. They consider it a display of weakness instead of an appeal for forgiveness. When I encounter the non-apologizers in a divorce mediation, I try to help them say the words without actually saying they’re sorry. This can be a slippery slope, but what sometimes works is when I ask: “If you had it to do all over again, would you have made a different choice?”

Words are powerful, and choosing them appropriately isn’t always easy, especially when apologizing. The next time you mess up (and you will — we all do), try to give yourself an extra moment to phrase your apology in the best way possible.