8 Ways to Spot a Fake Apology

5 min read

Sometimes a fake apology can be quite obvious. At other times, it can be more subtle.

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How many times have you seen politicians, business leaders, or celebrities issue apologies that leave you wondering: “Did that person actually apologize?” Or heard a coworker, friend, or someone else tell you something like, “I’m sorry that you misinterpreted my actions”, “I apologize if I offended you in any way”, or “Fine, I’ll apologize, if you insist,” which is, basically, an apology that doesn’t feel like a real apology?

Well, I regret to inform you that such apologies are not only fake but, unfortunately, very common. There are a lot of people out there acting as if they are apologizing when they really aren’t. Receiving a fake apology can actually make you feel worse and, in some cases, even be worse than the original offense.

An apology is fake when it really does not match the following definition of “apology” offered by the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” Here are eight differences between fake apologies and sincere apologies and how each fails to account for the “admission” and “regret” portions of this definition:

1. Fake apologies blame you or someone else besides the apologizer. Real apologies take personal responsibility.

These apologies often begin with the classic “I am sorry if you were offended” or “I am sorry that you are upset.” The person might as well say, “The problem is that you are too sensitive. Let me point that out for you.” Another blame-shifting type of “apology” has the person saying something like, “I am sorry that things were the way they were.” That’s like blaming the earth or the universe for what happened. A real apology entails the person showing a true “admission of error or discourtesy” and not simply looking for others or other things to blame.

2. Fake apologies appear forced. Real apologies are totally voluntary.

Force is evident is when people say something like “Fine, I apologize” or “If you insist, I will say that I am sorry.” A variation begins with, “Shrek told me that I should apologize to you.” Well, what would have happened if Shrek hadn’t told you to do so? Even when the other person doesn’t use such words, you can tell that they ares not really sorry about their actions because the apology is forthcoming only after the person gets caught or suffers some kind of backlash. Your first question may be, “Gee, what would have happened had you not been caught?”

3. Fake apologies are vague and nonspecific. Real apologies clearly identify what the person did wrong.


Fake apologies are vague and non-specific. Real apologies clearly identify what the person did wrong.

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A classic example is “I am sorry if I did anything wrong” as opposed to “I am sorry that I poured Jello all over you during your job interview.” For an apology to be truly genuine, the person apologizing should clearly identify what he or she did wrong so that there is no room for misinterpretation and minimal chance of a repeat error.

4. Fake apologies have conditions attached. Real apologies are condition-free.

When someone starts with, “I will apologize if,” that person hasn’t technically apologized yet. That person has added a condition, something else that you have to do to get that oh-so-precious apology. As Yoda might say, “Apologize or do not apologize. There is no if.”

5. Fake apologies don’t even use apologetic language. Real apologies use clearly say “I apologize” or “I am sorry.”

If you have to ask yourself, “Was that an apology,” it probably wasn’t. For example, when someone says, “You know I would never hurt you,” your first response may be, “Looks I don’t really know that because you kind of really hurt me.” Or how about the “I guess I owe you an apology” line? You guess? What kind of guesswork is required? This is not a game of Wordle. Then there’s the “I know I can be really alpha sometimes.” Oh, that’s nice. How alpha of you.

6. Fake apologies are not followed by listening. Real apologies quickly transition to listening.

If someone has to apologize to you, chances are that person was not listening to you in the first place. So, one way that person can show some sincerity is to actually, you know, start listening to you and figuring out what you want.

7. Fake apologies do not have any follow-up concrete actions and solutions. Real apologies do.

An apology may be nice, but as they say, actions speak louder than words. If that person committed a real no-no, that person should try to make amends and, for Pete’s sake (and your sake as well), not do the no-no again. After all, if that person feels that he or she can simply say, “I apologize for eating your chicken-and-egg breakfast for the tenth time just as I apologized the previous nine times,” your response should be, “Can you just freaking stop eating my chicken-and-egg breakfast?”

8. Fake apologies do not fully align with the accompanying gestures, facial expressions, and energy. Real apologies have full alignment.

Naturally, if that person is giggling uncontrollably while apologizing, you’ve got to question the sincerity of the apology. Basically, if you somehow feel that an apology is not an apology, then it probably isn’t.

These days, too many people act as if they’ve found the cheat code to issue an apology. And sorry if I’ve offended anyone by saying that. Ultimately, to really apologize, a person has to feel genuine regret. That person has to truly know and admit what he or she did wrong. Otherwise, that person might as well have said, “Sorry, but not sorry.”

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