What to do when someone is offended

advice on how and when to apologize




Don't stop talking to people. Just learn that the real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.





One key to getting along well with people is knowing when to say you're sorry. Sometimes little comments or actions can hurt or offend others. Heavy workloads and stress may keep us from seeing how our actions make others feel. The little things can add up. It doesn't take long for someone to hold a grudge and for grudges to grow into conflicts. In most cases, if someone is offended by something you do or say, it's much better to apologize right away. That solves the small problem and keeps it from getting bigger.


It's hard to apologize. Many of us are ashamed or have too much pride. Sometimes we just don't know how to do it. Here are some tips that may make it easier to say you're sorry.



Take responsibility. The first step in apologizing is to admit to yourself that you have offended someone. You may know this right away, or the other person's reaction may let you know you have done something hurtful. But you must admit you have done wrong and accept responsibility for your actions.


Explain. It's important to let the person you hurt know that you didn't mean to do harm. At the same time, you must show that you take your mistake seriously. Recognize that your actions caused a problem for the other person.


Show your regret. The other person needs to see that you have suffered, too. Come right out and say you are sorry or ashamed. I felt bad the minute I told your secret. I'm ashamed of myself.


Repair the damage. To be complete, an apology must correct the injury. If you damaged someone's property, offer to fix it. If the damage isn't so obvious, ask What can I do to make it up to you? There may be nothing concrete you can do, but the offer must be sincere. I'll try to keep my mouth shut in the future. Meantime, let me buy you a cup of coffee. Another way to repair the damage is to send a note or a small gift.


Use good timing. Apologize right away for little things. For example, if you bump into someone, say you're sorry right away. Don't wait until the next day to apologize. However, if you have done something more serious, like insult a friend, your apology should be more thoughtful. A quick apology might seem phony. Take the time to sit down, look the person in the eye, and apologize honestly.


It's not about who "won" or who "lost." It's about keeping a strong friendship.


- University of Nebraska, Cooperative Extension & Nebraska Health & Human Services