Communicating Effectively: On Empty Apologies

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


If Greg felt wronged, he was perfectly satisfied if someone simply said “I’m sorry.” These two words would get tbe offender off the hook. But he’d get really mad at anyone who refused to apologize. He seemed to think that the words “I’m sorry” had a magical quality to them. He couldn’t understand why it seemed that so many people were taking advantage of him.


Many people say “You owe me an apology!” and become extremely upset when someone refuses to utter the two magic words “I’m sorry.” Frankly, it’s hard to understand why so many people insist on hearing the words “I’m sorry.” Many individuals find it simple to say “I’m sorry” over and over again without meaning it and without changing their actions.

If someone has hurt, upset, offended, inconvenienced, or otherwise acted badly,

• it’s best to make amends by actions as well as words.

An apology is a good beginning, but the question to pose is, “What are you going to do about it now and in the future?” Too many people seem to believe that they can behave abominably as long as they’re willing to apologize afterwards. They don’t see the importance of refraining from repeating the same mistakes in the future.

Andrew, who had embezzled money from a friend, actually remarked, “Well, I said I was sorry!” Words are simply words: “I’m terribly sorry!” “Please forgive me!” Unscrupulous people can wring their hands in phony agony, express profound regret, and mean none of it.

In some cases, if a person is sincere, an apology may suffice. But instead of asking for an apology, a truly assertive person says “What can you do to be sure this will not happen again?”

That is crucial. It’s easy to let someone say “I’m sorry!” but getting the offender to correct the misdeed is what’s important.

• Apologies have merit only if people also are willing to change their actions.

Certainly, if you have acted in a way that someone found hurtful or offensive, it’s a good idea (especially if you value the relationship) to apologize. Nevertheless, the bottom line is unchanged – apologies are words; and actions speak more loudly.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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