How Can You Tell if an Apology is Sincere?


Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, is being hammered for an anti-gay remark he made 14 years ago. Hagel has since apologized for that remark. I think it’s a solid apology. But his critics aren’t sure if his apology is sincere or just opportunistic.

Chuck Hagel apologized for anti-gay remarks

Offering an apology is one thing.  But how can you tell if an offender’s apology is sincere?  What if it’s a fraudulent apology?  The simple answer is, you can’t tell.  You can’t look into another person’s soul.

An apology informed is good; an apology performed is better.

The more interesting answer is, sincerity doesn’t matter if the apology is complete in form and follow-through.   My advice is to accept apologies that are reasonably complete. The test of its sincerity will soon be revealed.It’s the action that follows the apology that’s important. An effective apology contains within it the answer to the question, “How am I to be held accountable?”


Effective apology is much more than saying “Sorry.”

The process of apology includes a number of steps that require the offender to consider the consequences of his or her conduct for specific individuals. These steps include engaging the victim in corroborating the factual record of what actually occurred, identifying what the conduct was, accepting responsibility for the conduct, expressing a shared commitment to moral principles that the named conduct violated, offering meaningful restitution, and promising not to do it again. The willingness of an offender to take these steps is the truest test of sincerity.



One Response to “How Can You Tell if an Apology is Sincere?”

  1. John Hritz says:

    Certainly, Sen Hagel has had other opportunities to speak on gay issues, and more importantly, make decisions that affect GLBT interests. As you say, an apology that is complete is interesting, but can Hagel point to material change in his position?

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