Ten Difficult, But Really Important Words

Many words in the English language are difficult. In fact, there’s even a Dictionary of Difficult Words. But none are more difficult than these: “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?”

Young Couple Standing on Opposite Sides of a Wall - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mediaphotos, Image #14615005

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mediaphotos

Many otherwise articulate people seem to have great difficulty in spitting these words out. They hem and haw. They stutter. They may get something close out, but they have a hard time slowly and deliberately saying these ten simple words.

But each one of these ten words are important.

  1. “I’m sorry.” Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and feel what they feel. This is something we desperately need to develop. But it takes humility.

    Too often, we are preoccupied with our own feelings. However, empathy is the recognition that it’s not all about us. Other people matter. They have feelings, too, and those feelings are important

    By saying we are sorry—sincerely and with authentic humility—we validate them as human beings. We are essentially saying, “I know you are hurt, and I understand. Your feelings are valid, and I am sorry that I am the cause of them. I’m not sorry because I got caught or because you called me out. I’m sorry because of the hurt that I caused you.”

  2. “I was wrong.” This the most difficult sentence of all. Perhaps we live with the mistaken notion that we never do anything wrong. Or perhaps we just think the other person should “give us a pass” because somehow we deserve it. But the truth is, we all make mistakes. If we are not guilty of sins of commission (i.e., deliberately doing something that offends others), we are guilty of sins of omission (i.e., failing to live up to others expectations).

    One of the great things about being a Christian is that I have been released from the need to pretend I am perfect. No, I am a sinner, and I need forgiveness—from God and from the people I offend.

  3. “Will you please forgive me?” This is one of the most powerful sentences we can ever utter. By asking this as a question, we acknowledge that forgiveness is not an entitlement. We don’t deserve forgiveness; we are asking for it as an act of mercy.

    This also acknowledges that it is a choice on the part of the other person. They may withhold their forgiveness. Perhaps they are not ready to make up. They may need some space. But, in my experience, almost always the other person says, “I forgive you.” With this simple sentence, both of us are healed.

We may be tempted to take shortcuts. We could simply say, “I apologize” or “Sorry.” But nothing is quite as effective as saying all ten words. It may seem awkward or artificial at first, but with practice it gets easier. And if you are like me, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice.

Question: Do you find it difficult to get these words out? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Gail Hyatt

    Excellent post. As you know, we have tried really hard to model this in our marriage and teach it to our children. It’s been a major reason for the great relationships we have. I’m so glad to see you post on this. I remember that the whole process can be even more healing, and more effective with the addition of two more phrases.

    They would go with the first phrase, “I’m sorry.” “Jane, I’m sorry for ________. ( … embarassing you in that meeting. … completely forgetting about your birthday. … getting so upset and yelling before I even heard your side. … lying to you about where I was last night.) This let’s the other person know that you “get it.”

    Second, we typically add the phrase “I know that hurt you.” We own up to the specific pain we’ve caused.

    Most of the time, “I’m sorry,” by itself, doesn’t necessarily communicate much. Our tone of voice, eye contact and body language can take us so far, but specific acknowlegdement of our offense and the hurt it’s caused takes us the rest of the way.

    So, here’s how my 10 most difficult words would be fleshed out: “Jane, I am so sorry for __________. I know that it hurt you very much. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me.”

    • http://www.culturesmithconsulting.com Cheryl Smith


      Your point about the "for" is spot on! Often when the children say I'm sorry, I'll ask, "for what?" I want them to know that apologies are more than just getting out of a consequence (they aren't), and for them to have an accurate understanding of the situation.

      You and Mike have a true gift and I'm thankful to be able to learn from your examples.
      My recent post Whining to God

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/PeteNikolai Pete Nikolai

    Gail: I don’t know if I’ve seen you comment before so I just want to welcome you to the blog! I look forward to hearing your voice as you join in the conversation. We all know where much of Mike’s widsom has come from… ;-)

  • Gail Hyatt

    Thanks Pete. I’m kind of new to this blog world. At least on the interacting side. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  • http://www.culturesmithconsulting.com Cheryl Smith

    Mike, you are absolutely correct! Your post reminds me of the Happy Days episode when Fonzie couldn't admit he was wr-wr-wro—

    I'm so glad you included the piece about asking for forgiveness. In our family, we are teaching our children when someone apologizes to them, the best reply is not "it's OK." Clearly if someone is apologizing, what they said or did isn't "OK." Instead, they have the choice to say, "I forgive you," when they've been wronged. Those words are very freeing to the hearer, but perhaps more so to the speaker.

    Peter and I are also now more willing to say those words in public and in the corporate environment when someone says, "I'm sorry," to either of us. At first it takes people completely by surprise, but I think after the words drift through the air and settle in the ears, the other person is changed – even if only a bit.
    My recent post Whining to God

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  • http://byrdmouse.wordpress.com Jonathan

    Hard to get out these words? Yes. Are things much better when we do? Absolutely. Though admitedly I usually only get through the first 5, it has never ceased to amaze me the difference in using all 10.

    • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

      I agree, and knowing how much better things are when we do, it never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is to say all 10!

  • Anonymous

    Very hard, those are words  that should be learned early, but being sincere and understanding their power to heal and bring intimacy will take time. 

  • http://www.leahadams.org Leah Adams

    What a great post! Love the comments by Mrs. Hyatt. I think she is spot on with regard to owning up specifically to what we are apologizing for.

    Yes, it is hard to say these words, but I have found that as I have pressed into Jesus more and more and sought to have a heart like His, these words have come easier. Although Jesus never had to apologize for anything, He did model a heart of humility and that is what it takes to be able to say these words AND MEAN THEM!!!    

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I think she added a really important component.

  • http://davidsantistevan.com David Santistevan

    I do have a hard time getting these words out. I’m naturally quite stubborn :) It’s amazing how the landscape of a conversation or interaction can change when you humble yourself and use these 10 words. Regrettable arguments can be avoided.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I was, too, initially. But they do get easier with practice. I have had plenty of opportunities!

  • http://www.bretmavrich.com Bret Mavrich

    Michael, spot on. 

    I had a hilarious conversation with a friend of mine where we practiced “fake” apologies. It’s actually really easy to do, and people do it all the time. You just say “I’m sorry, but…” which negates it entirely. Or, the other major out is to apologize for something you can’t control: “I’m sorry you feel like I was mean.” Finally, apologizing, then adding a contingency that invalidates it (sort of a combination of the two): “Sorry I was late; traffic was really bad today!”

    All that to say, you’ve laid out a fool-proof plan for owning sin, apologizing for it, then placing oneself soundly in the shadow of the cross and the need for mercy. Great post. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I was coaching a friend yesterday who needed to apologize to his daughter. I said, “Whatever you do, do not use the word ‘but.’ It will negate everything you have said to that point.”

      • http://jasonfountain.blogspot.com Jason Fountain

        One of my favorite all-time books, How to Win Friends and Influence People, refers to not using the word “but.” In fact, Carnegie said always replace the word “but” with “and.” It is awkward at first and doesn’t fit in all situations, but using the word “but” is always like adding a caveat.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          I totally agree with Carnegie on this point. It is amazing how much simple wisdom is in that book.

          • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

            On the topic of books, I have really enjoyed reading the communicating book by John C. Maxwell! I started it a few days ago when it came in the mail from you.

            I think that the communication applies here. We can sometimes mean that we are sorry or whatever, but we might not be effectively communicating that…Thanks for the book!

          • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

            You are welcome.

          • Jmhardy97

            The five love Languages is a great book if you have not read it. I bought it and my wife and I read it together. That was a growing experience!


      • Jmhardy97

        That is a big lesson that I had to learn. I always wanted to end my conversations with “but”. My wife said, you always want to get that little jab in. It was difficult, but I overcame it and I have healthier relationships because of it.


    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      It is good to practice these kind of things…makes it a whole lot easier when you do it for real!

    • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

      Bret, spot on.

      It is often tempting to add caveat’s to our apologies – to say the apology and then try to turn it around in some way that makes us look not guilty.  In the heat of the moment, we tend to gforget that people can easily see through the veiled attempts and it just ends up making us look worse.

  • http://www.susiefinkbeiner.wordpress.com Susie Finkbeiner

    It is difficult to admit guilt. One trap I realized I used was “I’m sorry if I hurt you” or “I’m sorry you took it that way”. Those words cast the blame on the other person. So, in other words, I’m telling the other person that they should be sorry for taking it wrong or for being hurt. 

    I need to own up to the hurt I’ve caused. I’m beginning to learn that as an effective tool in relationship building.

  • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

    For those that embrace the notion of those three points, I add; tell the person your are addressing what it is that you plan to do differently. Sorrow, culpability and seeking forgiveness can be even more powerful when we put actions to our acknowledgment.    
    Also, ask the other person for input on what they’d like you to differently and seek their support in your actions. Reciprocity helps. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That is a great addition.

      • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

        To err is human. To forgive is devine. To learn something and make progress through action together is even better. 

        • Jmhardy97

          Great point Alan. Most just want to relive the mistake that you made ten years ago. That kind of behavior gets the relationship no where.


    • Joe Lalonde

      Good point to add. I think our apologies often sound hollow and empty because we don’t give action to it.

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        That is true!

      • http://www.frymonkeys.com Alan Kay

        Yes. We should be clear enough in our apology and what we will do differently that it resonates with the other person. I was also thinking about how we can make the expression of regret/forgiveness an opportunity to grow beyond the moment. When the recipient is engaged in the act by being asked for input it clarifies how the apology has been received, what it means to them and, ideally make them accountable for supporting the person in their ‘doing something different’. 

      • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

        So true.  Actions give meaning to our words.  As well, taking action in response to the issue can potentially bring some sort of profit out of the situation.

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    I find it extremely hard to say these words.  Especially with my wife and kids.  There’s something about those intimate relationships that sometimes makes it harder to admit that you were wrong.  It should make it easier, but sometimes it’s harder.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is where these words are such a great opportunity to lead your family.

      • John Fajimi

        I agree with this Michael. It’s an opportunity to model those very behaviors we would expect (or would like, at least) others to show to us if the shoe were on the other leg, so to speak.

  • http://profiles.google.com/pollywogcreekporch Patricia Hunter

    I’ve done the same thing with my children/grandchildren, Cheryl…trying to help them acknowledge exactly what it is they did for which they are apologizing because often they are being coerced into apologizing.

  • http://profiles.google.com/sequoiajoy Connie Brown

    Yes, it is hard to say these words. I’ve also had much practice.

    And it is hard to deal with some people where forgiveness isn’t given. Then, consistently loving actions, prayer, willingness to communicate, time — all are required to repair a relationship as much as possible.

  • http://twitter.com/TonyVerJr Tony Verguldi Jr

    Sometimes saying those words is hard.  There was a point in my life where I need to admit to my wife that I had wronged her.  We worked through the situation and I asked for forgiveness.  She needed time to accept and process the hurt and pain I had caused her, but eventually one day she said that she forgave me.
    Please know that forgiveness may not be immediate.  Give the person time.  Talk to and answer the person’s questions and concerns.  Be honest and open.  Forgiveness will come even if it is days, weeks or months later.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is so true, Tony. Sometimes, people need the space to process what has happened. It also depends on how serious the sin was.

  • http://profiles.google.com/pollywogcreekporch Patricia Hunter

    “One of the great things about being a Christian is that I have been released from the need to pretend I am perfect. No, I am a sinner, and I need forgiveness—from God and from the people I offend.”
    For far too many years I either never heard that message or it never sunk in. My slavery to perfectionism was most certainly my greatest stumbling block to being able to speak those ten words.  If only I had known the freedom I would experience by overcoming my need to be perfect, admit my mistakes, ask for forgiveness and move on.  

  • Anonymous

    When we were young we were taught kindness would get us far, but these 10 words from a humble heart will carry you places you’ve never been in marriage, parenting, pastoring and the like. After 19 years of marriage I’ve had a lot of practice…still practicing!

  • http://lindseynobles.com Lindsey Nobles

    This is a really powerful post. And yes those 10 words are very difficult to say.

    I think one thing I’m learning is that we can forgive someone who has hurt us without condoning their behavior or putting them back in a position where they can hurt us again. Forgiveness is a gift but trust needs to be earned. And most of the time forgiveness is more critical for the giver than the receiver.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You make some critical points, Lindsey. Wow. You should do a blog post yourself and expand on your comments here. Thanks!

      • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

        I think that is a great idea…I ahve gotten so many blog ideas from commenting on other sites! One of the great things about blog comments!

    • Jmhardy97


      It takes a strong person to forgive and not be afraid of being hurt again.


  • http://jeremysconfessions.com Jeremy Statton

    I agree that point #2 (I was wrong) is very hard. It requires honesty combined with humility.

  • http://geoffreywebb.wordpress.com/ Geoff Webb

    Excellent. These phrases are the most humbling and powerful words I know.

    I’d add: Watch out for statements like, “I’m sorry you were offended.” That’s not really apologizing for your actions or words, just the fact that the other person was offended. Own up fully, that’s the only way to become fully free.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree, Geoff. That is really a non-apology. Whenever someone has said something like this in the past to me, it has compounded the offense rather than alleviate it.

  • http://chrisvonada.com chris vonada


    I don’t really understand why this one is so very difficult for some… but believe it may have something to do with pride.

    Thank you for sharing another great post!

  • Anonymous

    Leaders gain the respect of the followers when they use these exact words consistently. It is difficult because it demands maturity and humility in order for the words to have authenticity.
    It is easier to gloss over, make light of, or simply ignore mistakes and offenses. But this path actually corrupts the respect needed for leaders from those whom they lead.
    Thanks for the great post.

    • Jmhardy97

      Jim you are exactly right. One of the things that I teach all of my new leaders is that they need to admit when they are wrong and do not be afraid to say that they are sorry. It is amazing how leadership at home and at work have some of the same aspects like honesty, trust and relationship building.


    • John Fajimi

      True words Jim.

      The leader in question must also be ready to take corrective action and ensure that he or she lives up to the higher standard of behavior that would validate the apology in the long run, for the sake both of the employees and the leader.

  • http://twitter.com/marybethwhalen Marybeth

    Someone has already mentioned it here, but I wanted to add the link to Fonzie saying he was wr-wr-wrong. My husband and I joke about that often when we have to admit we’re wrong about something. We’ve tried to work with our kids from the get-go, getting them to say those 10 words to their siblings and to us. It’s so amazing how even from a young age, they resist. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwkU8-d1gIk

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Great link!

    • Joe Lalonde

      Marybeth, thanks for posting the link. It’s a pretty funny clip.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    I went to a half day seminar at our church years ago on forgiveness, that truly changed my life. Coming to the event, I figured it would be a waste of time. I didn’t need to forgive anyone, I thought. In fact, I couldn’t think of anyone I had a problem with.

    But as I got into the process, I realized I had held a deep resentment of my mom for the pain she caused me growing up with years of alcoholism. For a few hours, I prayed and worked through years of turmoil. I forgave my mom completely. I asked God to forgive me. When I left that day, it was like a thousand pounds had been lifted from my shoulders. I became a much happier person after that. Many of my anger problems vanished.

    Truly forgiving someone can change you in ways you may not even realize. Saying you are sorry and seeking forgiveness, can solve a myriad of problems. Letting things fester, can cause pain and suffering for years.

  • Brian

    I find that the words “I forgive you” are equally as hard. It means we give up our “rights” to make someone pay it off, hang on to our resentment, and use someone’s guilt against them as ammunition.

    I am surprised at the many times I have given a straightforward apology, using the words “I am sorry” and “will you forgive me” without the other person releasing from my debt. Come to think of it, I have not been so faithful at forgiving either. As Christian leaders, especially, we’ve got to get real about declaring forgiveness. Jesus told us to do it! 

    Luke 6:37 – “Forgive and you will be forgiven”
    Matthew 6:12 – “And forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.”
    Matthew 16:19 – “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is so true, Brian. Great insight.

    • Jmhardy97


      Thank you for sharing these verses………….forgiveness needs to be in all of our vocab!


  • Chuck Meadors

    This is so spot on and effective.  We taught our children when they apologize, they needed to say they were sorry, admit it was wrong, say they would not do this again, and ask for forgiveness.  Asking for forgiveness was the most difficult thing for them. 

  • Jane

    Just read this post, and all i can say is AWESOME! and SO TRUE!! Wow, and the thing is this, if the other party doesn’t utter those “magical” words and mean it, and can cause a deep wound to fester in the heart of the “offended” party. Been married for close to 14yrs (in December), i find this post, like a sharp arrow that hit home…bullseye!

    Thank you and please don’t stop writing. Actually, my husband introduced me to your post..

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jane. As God gives me strength!

  • http://twitter.com/KellyCombs Kelly Combs

    As I commented on your sin versus mistake post a while back, this is something we implemented with our kids early on.  Saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough.  That still leaves the power with the offender.  Especially when said without meaning, like when your mom makes you say it.  (*grin*) 

     But by following with “Will you forgive me?” you give the power to the offended, and it is very humbling.

    The part we left out was the “I was wrong.”  Wow!  Talk about humbling!  Will work on implementing this, not only for my kids but for myself as well.

  • Anonymous

    Great post today Michael.  I can tell you that early on in life I did not like these words at all.  It was difficult to get them out especially when I was going through my phase of thinking that I could do and control everything.  As I have grown in my faith and humility, I have found that the words are easier to say and that these words have helped me to form great realtionships that have lasted over the long run including the most important relationships with my wife and children.  Nothing will humble you more than recognizing that you need to use these words with your children and then using them, plus it sets a great example.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Amen to that. Offenses are inevitable. We have to learn to deal with them in a healthy way. I’m glad you have!

  • Heypat

    Thanx for taking the time to post this. This could save relationships.

  • Skewlnurse1

    I feel that it’s less difficult to speak those words compared to accepting the sincerity of those speakng the words.  Are they saying it because they have to or are the words truly coming from the heart?

    • http://profiles.google.com/sequoiajoy Connie Brown

      I think it is easier to say these words than it is to forgive those who say them, for whatever reason. (I say this from experience.) We can’t ever know how sincere the person is. As a Christian, the challenge is to love the person, as is, anyway.

      Today’s Upper Room devotional reminded me that God loves the ungrateful and wicked. It is more admirable to forgive and love others, even those who disappoint or hurt us.

      • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

        I agree—even if we have to do it repeatedly. It is how God is with us.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s where I think we have to “believe all things” (1 Cor. 13:7), giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.

  • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

    I am very bad at willingly admitting I am wrong. However, simply apologizing always seems to fix the problem rather quickly. One day will I will learn!

    • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

      I’m not bad at it, because I’m never wrong. Ha! Just kidding. I’m with you, Dylan. Takes a lot to muster up the sincerity to apologize too. Even though it’s tough for me to apologize, I won’t do it unless I mean it. Sincerity is a must. Not sure it will work unless sincerity is the foundation. 

  • dewde

    Andy Stanley takes it a bit further and adds “What can I do to help in light of what I have done?” 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That’s a very good question. Thanks.

  • Octavian Gabor

    One of my friends told me once she could never say, “forgive me!” She always used, “I’m sorry,” and to some extent that seemed good enough. After all, one may judge you to be bold if you ask for forgiveness–“who are you to tell me that I should forgive you? Why do you give me the obligation to forgive you by asking forgiveness from me?” But then, my friend saw a couple, husband and wife, who always asked forgiveness from one another. Not the whole ten words, but only this, “forgive me!” She was so touched by it that she went to confession. And I think there is something nice in this, that we need help in liberating ourselves from the fear that the others may judge us to be weak, bold, or in any other way when we ask for forgiveness. In confession, she asked for forgiveness from God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for not being able to ask for forgiveness! I think once you take up the courage to do something like that, all else come by itself.

    • Jane

      You know this is so profound. Thanks for sharing..Hmmm!!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Beautiful story. Thanks.

  • http://chriscornwell.org Chris Cornwell

    I am often the “new guy to the game.” I haven’t been doing vocational ministry for very long and I’ve been serious about leadership, writing, creativity, etc. for last 6-12 months. I get PLENTY of chances to practice this, but often fail. I struggle with no. 2 – ‘I was wrong.’
    I don’t like to be wrong. No one does. But I fall into a trap that being wrong means I’m inadequate to handle the job, not smart enough, and so on. I know that’s not the case, but still I struggle. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, it is difficult. This is where I think you have to give yourself permission to not always be right.

  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    One of the hardest things to do is say these words when we feel like we’re right. But they need to be said for the sake of the relationship (whether a marriage, partnership, or a simple working environment).

    The fact is, even if we are right in one situation, conflict isn’t necessarily a benign, innocent conflict. It came from somewhere. To find the rift and smooth it out is a good goal to make life easier in the long run. There’s more to living here than what we want or what we think is right. Tough lesson.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I agree. I had a situation recently, where I felt the other person was 100% in the wrong. For the longest time, I couldn’t accept any responsibility. The other person wasn’t moving at all toward me. I began to look again at my actions from the other person’s point-of-view. I finally got to the point where I saw that I had had a role in the breakdown in the relationship. I decided to take 100% responsibility for my actions. I went to the other person and verbalized these ten words. It was very difficult; however, it put our relationship back on the road toward healing.

      • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

        Just gave me an idea. I’m going to do this too. I had a friend who was like my brother in high school. Actually lived with his family my junior & senior year. I moved a few hours away and lost touch. Tried to re-engage only to be met with resistance of hard feelings from him. Have no idea what happened – or what I did. BUT, I’m going to write a letter to him for his birthday. Send it with a heartfelt apology. I just found his address. Who knows. Maybe he’ll be receptive.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          Good for you!

  • Joe Lalonde

    Gail, I love how you expanded on what Michael posted. It gives us a clear picture on how to ask for forgiveness and apologize.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      True that!

  • Jane

    You know, most of the times our personality often get in the way of just doing the right thing. Because, learning to use those words, freely and meaningfully is the RIGHT thing to do. However, doing the right thing never comes easy…never. It’s just a conscious heart decision that you work at…constantly, till you can empathize with the ones you offend to offer those words easily and with heartfelt sincerity.

    What helps me through this, like i share with my girlfriends is “don’t let the fault be found in you”. It’s something I tell myself, if a second party gets involved in this conflict, will the fault be all yours?? Do what you know to be right to do, and pray the other party rises to the occasion to do theirs. But I can say truthful, it a hard, steep and narrow stairs to climb. Nevertheless, the rewards are enormous, and reverberating for a long while to come.

  • Joe Lalonde

    Michael, thanks for the informative post. I do find it hard to say these words. I don’t remember hearing them growing up much and I know I don’t say them often enough to my wife and others. I often find myself wanting to, but I end up saying nothing in the end.

    This will give me something to chew on and improve in my life. Can’t wait to see the change that it will bring.

  • http://twitter.com/BrettVaden Brett Vaden

    No matter how many times I say these words, it doesn’t seem to get easier. It always reminds me of the thing I want to admit least: I am not as great as I think I am; in fact, I am a sinner in need of grace and mercy.

    • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

      It’s great to know that we have great value in Christ, but it is important to note that we r really nothing…God is everything! Jesus was the great example for humility!

  • Joe

     There is something to say about the power of three’s. I agree that just saying “Sorry” is not as effective as saying these ten words. I find this to be character of the heart.

    My wife and I drew conclusions from our Christian walk that there is power in threes. A few years ago, I started apologizing by saying “I’m sorry” three times, with a delay between each.  Each time I say these things, I put emphasis on a different word, First “Sorry”, then “I;m”, then “I’m Sorry for”.

    My wife often says that by the time I reach the third apology, which is sometimes delayed by a 20 minutes,  she truly knows that I am indeed sorry.

  • http://jasonfountain.blogspot.com Jason Fountain

    Two points: One of my favorite all-time books is How to Win Friends and Influence People. In the book, Carnegie talks much about our language and the words that we use. Many people look at the teachings as manipulating others. Not me – I think it is just good sound advice. Powerful book about relationship-building.

    Second, asking for forgiveness and admitting to being wrong is a deeply personal issue. It takes a humble spirit to be sincere. Just uttering the words might be a start, but others know when we are sincere. The words must be sincere and spoken with a humble and contrite spirit.

  • http://cynthiaherron.wordpress.com Cynthia Herron

    This goes hand in hand with your recent post, Sin Vs. Mistake, and I couldn’t agree more. Modeling these words for our children is so important because as their parents we are indeed their first teachers.

  • http://twitter.com/fgantz Frank Gantz

    Great words for a generation that has learned to apologize “if” somebody has been offended.

  • misty

    Excellently written post!  Those 10 words bring the most comfort to a hurtful situation to both parties if they have the right humble attitude.  It brings a new beginning and peace to calm the waters of something that has created hurt, grief, sorrow, pain, misunderstanding, confusion, and more! Thanks for the continued reminders, example and support you are to each of us through your blog.  May God bless you and Gail!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You are welcome. Thanks, Misty.

  • http://mymellowpages.blogspot.com/ bookncoffee

    This post is so true.  These are key elements in keeping a marriage together OR ANY relationship together.  Admitting wrong and the lack of being perfect is like opening a door to communicate with another person.  To continue building relationships and maintaining them we have to be able to forgive.  We have to.  Neither person is perfect.  Humans always fail at some point.  Including God in the relationship enhances and strengthens.  I pray for my marriage every day!  And I can see God’s hand in maintaining it and making it a wonderful thing for us both.  

  • Ramon Presson

    So true!  The tendency, especially for us men, is to say “I’m sorry” the way a teenager apologizes for injuring a young brother. With less than impressive sincerity.  The tone of the irritation in the apology reveals the true feeling and message, “Good grief. I’m SORRY that you so OVERREACTED to something minor.”    I’m not owning my bad decision/harsh words/wrong action but rolling my eyes (inwardly) over your dramatic reaction (hurt or anger). 

    You captured the essence of a true, sincere, and effective apology in this post. Thank you. I also highly recommend Dr. Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Languages of Apology”.  You captured three of the five here.

  • Louis Tullo

    This post really reminds me of the importance of humility in fostering good relationships. Thanks for posting!

  • Brad Nease

    Someone may have said this below, so I will emphasize:  When we say these 10 words when we are at fault in a situation with our kids or our spouse, and we say the 10 words while our kids watch, it is extremely powerful.  They need to see humility and vulnerability from their parent/s. 

    Every kid is different and I found that those 10 words are easier for one vs. another.  If they see it in action, it makes it easier for them to make it a part of who they are. . .  I didn’t say it makes it easy, just easier!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You are so right. This is one of the most important things we could ever model to our children.

    • Sherri

      I agree so much with this. I have heard people say that home life while we grow up is practice for adulthood. How great would it be if we all grew up seeing our parents model this and practicing it ourselves? 


  • Jud Hays

    Twelve Most Important Words (Tried and Proven)

    I am sorry … I was wrong … Please forgive me … I love you!

    I can say the first three and still be hot, but I’ve never been able to say all twelve without the Holy Spirit convicting my heart and giving me the grace to say them. When I can say all twelve I really mean them.

    In Christ Complete … <

    Jud Hays

  • Al Pittampalli

    It’s amazing how simple these words are, but how difficult they can be to say them. But you’re right…all 10 words, not just some of them, communicate an authentic intention to clean up the mess you’ve made, completely. Great post, Michael.

    • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

      Authenticity and sincerity is a great place to come from when using these words. I agree, Al.

  • http://alexspeaks.com Alex Humphrey

    Not only with family, but in business this is big asset. How many bosses, ceos, and even employees are willing to look someone in the eye and say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?” 

    If this was something we incorporated not only into every day life, but also into our work life we could revolutionize business.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Absolutely. I totally agree.

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  • http://sevensentences.com Geoff Talbot

    This is a really great post, beautiful in it’s simplicity. My favorite part was “I have been released from the need to pretend I am perfect.”

    There is no point pretending to be perfect or even striving for perfection, for without “faith” it is impossible to please God. And the search/desire for perfection often leads to pride and makes apologizing hard.

    I have a friend in New Zealand who reminds me constantly that we come to Christ with absolutely nothing, no way to save ourselves; and this way we begin is the same way that we continue on.

    It is strange that we begin this way and then sometimes fall into the trap of expecting and desiring perfection from ourselves and others?

    Thanks so much for again reminding me to always be humble, to take that low posture that lives in the joy of grace.

    Geoff Talbot

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    Awesome post! I love the 3 words (or phrases) that you mentioned! Sometimes, it can be very difficult to get these words out… Personally, I do not have a big problem at all saying “I’m sorry” or “will you forgive me”, but saying “My bad” sometimes is hard for me.

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    Well said!

    • Jmhardy97

      I could not agree more!


  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    Sometimes it takes awhile to get into the discussions…I know when I first started blogging, people would tell me that they read my site for over a yr before they even commented. It’s good to know that there are people reading even though they might not be participating in the comments!

  • http://www.facebook.com/charla.pickerel Charla Zimmerman Pickerel

    Thanks for the post.  I will be the first to admit that they don’t come easy, any of them.  I would like also to add that of the three phrases…..”I was wrong” is the most difficult.  I find it much easier to apologize for a misunderstanding, the pain my actions may have caused (although right ;) ) come much easier.   Admitting my error assumes there was one, and sometimes that is a little harder to come by.  I’ve found that if I begin with sorrow for the pain I have caused, and asking for forgiveness for that, sometimes the realization of my error comes along.  But I don’t think I would  say “I was wrong” when I don’t think I was.  Am I wrong?  :) 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I definitely don’t think you should admit to something you haven’t done. I think sometimes admitting to the pain is the best you can do—even if you would take the same actions again.

  • http://bit.ly/hWr7Cw Rob T

    so powerful…thank you Michael.

  • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

    Perhaps it is easier to forgive than to ask for forgiveness. I grew up in a rather dysfunctional family and I held grudges against my father for years, until I forgave him soon after I came to Christ. For me, asking my children for forgiveness has been challenging. It requires me to humble and place myself at their mercy (they can choose not to forgive). It took some very traumatic experiences to wake me up to the need to start practicing these ten words. Thank you Michael, for encouraging this conversation.

    BTW I really like how you do the email subscriptions, with links for people to take action (comment, share on Facebook etc.) What do you use to create email subscriptions like this?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      It is all custom code that I had written by a developer. Sorry. :-(

      • http://twitter.com/CoachTheresaIF Theresa Ip Froehlich

        Thank you, Michael. I thought it was custom. It’s a very user-friendly feature.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=628131156 Jessica Bennett

    Great post.  When we first started out in our marriage, neither me or my husband had a hard time saying we were sorry. (still don’t thankfully) However, what we did have a problem with was when for example, I would say I’m sorry, he would say “it’s okay”.  And vice versa.  One day we came to the realization that no, it wasn’t okay.  If there was a need for an “I’m sorry” than there was a need for forgiveness.  It was a weird adjustment at first.  We had to help each other through it.  So it went like this Him: “I’m sorry.”  Me: “It’s okay”.  Him: “No it’s not okay, I did wrong and I need to ask you to forgive me.”  It even seemed weird at first to say “I forgive you.”  But the more we went through this exchange, the more we could tell it was right.   Now, as I look back I wonder why it was so awkward just to “say” it.  It wasn’t a stubbornness on our parts, just didn’t come naturally.  And we were both raised in Christian homes and are in the ministry together even today.  I believe it is such an important part of marriages as well as just being able to live together in harmony with anyone you come in contact with. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for mentioning this. I don’t think you are alone. This is awkward for many people and takes practice.

  • http://relevantbrokenness.com Marni Arnold

    Do I find them difficult to get out…yes, at times. However, my heart usually overrides my head when I know I completely have done wrong and I get them out anyway. The one that I can get hung up on though is the “will you forgive me?”

    Personally though I find it far more difficult to get out these this phrase more than the others…

    “I forgive myself.”

    This chokes me up in the worst ways more than any other words. We can be harder on ourselves than others.

    • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

      Agreed, Marni. I beat myself up time and again, then God always quick to remind me that if He has forgiven me, then who am I to hold a grudge against myself? Like He told Job, “Where were you when I set the world in place? How could I do that without you?” LOL

  • Anonymous

    Oh, yes.  Your tweet was right on:  “Offenses are inevitable.”  It’s true!  But, oh, the power of forgiving and being forgiven!

    Today (June 22, 2011) is my 26th wedding anniversary, and I’ve learned the power of forgiveness through hard experience.  In fact, I wrote about it today; I called the post “The Key to a Good Marriage.”  A long list of strategies for building a good marriage is lovely, but I’m convinced that nothing is so important as forgiveness.  Thank you for using your platform to share such a life-giving principle!

  • Anonymous

    Oh yes! Especially since I love to be right. Thanks for the perspective. 

  • Anonymous

    I learned how to do this last year at The Table Rock Freedom Center. We also learned how to do a clearing. “When you ______, I feel_________. What I need from you is ____________.”

    It has changed the way I communicate and it’s so much better!

  • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

    These will diffuse the most heated situations.

    • bethanyplanton

      Agreed. It is interesting to watch how fast those words diffuse the situation if we will actually say them. 

  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com Patricia Zell

    Perhaps it’s a function of me growing older and spending a lot of time in my prayer closet, but I find it fairly easy to say the ten most difficult words to utter.  I especially use them in my classroom to reinforce the concepts that it’s okay to make mistakes and that misbehavior can be overcome.  And, now that our children are grown, the need to speak those words to my husband has waned–a lot less stress and disagreements over the kids and a lot more unity. More than anything, I have to come to understand the power of God’s love and I know He has promised to make all things work together for my good and for the good of the people I am involved with. With confidence in His love, saying those ten little words can accomplish much.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Taking ownership/responsibility is a hard lesson to learn. I suppose I should be thankful I have so many opportunities to get it right.

    Actually the ability to focus on my responsibility for a problem has taken time but, even when two create the problem, the single focus on my specific contribution keeps a relationship moving in a positive direction. Usually an unadulterated-no-attempt-to-blame apology on my part leads to a future apology from the other person. That’s not the reason to shoulder the load of guilt but it’s often a byproduct.

  • bethanyplanton

    Great reminder to keep ourselves humble with those we hurt. 

    • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

      No doubt. Seems like when we find ourselves needing humility, that’s the exact time we need to practice these 10 difficult but important words. 

  • Stacie

    I just wrote about this on Father’s Day….one of the challenging things for my dad was to say he was sorry.  Unfortunately, I’ve aquired this difficulty as well.  But, I am working on it.  Well, I should say God is working on me!

    I so badly want to be a good example for my girls in this.  Thanks for the reminder — and this timely post!

  • Jmhardy97

    Great post. I remember my grandmother telling me that she and my grandfather had made an agreement to never go to bed mad. When I got married to my wife, we made the same pact. Being able to say your sorry or that you were wrong is  a great rule to live by.


  • Anonymous

    Could not agree more!  In our pre-marital counseling our Pastor gave us the same advice!  We have put it into practice in our marriage and while it can be difficult to do, we are the better for it.  There has never been another earthly relationship that has brought me more love, safety and comfort than my marriage.  I believe, in part, it is because of these words. 

  • Wayne Bays

    Difficult, yes. Impossible, NO

  • Sherri

    The first part of Proverbs 15:1 says ” a gentle answer turns away wrath”. I can’t think of a better way to diffuse a conflict than to say these ten words to someone. Once I admit that I’m wrong no one needs to work hard to convince me that I am. :) It’s a great way to just take the wind out of the sails of a good fight. When you think about it, it’s very freeing to know that you don’t always have to be right. I know I’m relieved! Thank you for this post. It’s great encouragement and a  timely reminder for me. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You are welcome.

  • http://twitter.com/joelfortner03 joelfortner03

    This post really resonated with me.  I wrote a blog post recently about the power of simple messages, which can be found here: http://joelfortner.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/the-power-of-simple-messages/.  My point in the post was PR and Marketing messaging doesn’t have to be complicated, and used “I love you” and “be careful” as examples.  Like the words you highlighted here, they are all enduring, powerful ways to get a message across, and pro communicators should take cues from the way they speak to one another on a daily basis.  From a leadership standpoint, the same is true.  Being able to tell your team “I’m sorry” and so on is incredibly powerful.  It does not show weakness, it shows you care and care is part of the daily diet leaders should feed their teams.

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    Simple and to the point, but so powerful. Thank you for the reminder to engage on a heart level in our relationships with compassion and empathy.

  • http://profiles.google.com/southernbelle886 Heather R. Asbell

    It’s amazing to see the value in words.  These 10 are amazingly powerful.  I know in my own life hearing them changes situations immediately.  10 words that communicate SO much more.  Yet, I know that I struggle to get those words out.  As I strive to kill pride in my world (a never ending battle), I find that these words come a little easier. Humility allows the availability to see how I may have wronged others. 

    This is a gentle reminder of the power of words…  that I can edify and build other up, or I can destroy and tear them down.

  • http://darensirbough.tumblr.com Daren Sirbough

    It is never easy to get these words out. Every time I have to say them I have to realise the truth of them for myself and the other person before I can say it sincerely. I have apologised to about 20 people this year in that way and let me just say, it has revolutionised the team that I work with. I know that people trust me and I have gained the respect of many others for my step of humility. I apologised and did not expect any apology back even if there should have been one. I took responsibility for my failures and it has allowed others to open up and feel more at ease within the team. These words have such healing power in them.

  • http://tonychung.ca tonychung

    I’m late to the party as usual. ;-)  The hardest part for most people is to say, “Sorry,” then offer an explanation. Nobody wants your explanations. They want your heart.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Amen to that!

    • http://www.walkwiththewise.wordpress.com Gail

      Not me, I want your explanation. I find that it can be useful in moving the relationship forward, helping you overcome this issue, understanding who you are, bringing context to the situation, and forgiving when it’s hard. Please, give me your explanation with your apology.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Thanks for the enlightening words this morning. The three phrases are most often forgotten words in our daily life. As believers, we can make a difference with everyone whom we contact with these kind words.

  • http://stevencribbs.com Steven Cribbs

    This has been a big deal for my family.  “I’m Sorry” became such a meaningless phrase that I told my kids to stop saying “sorry”.  It was signficant enough that I even wrote this post about it.

  • http://www.bigb94.wordpress.com Brandon

    I agree with that!


    “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the
    glory of God.”
    -I Corinthians 10:31



  • Ebenezerspastor

    Another great post. As a pastor and counselor I have tried to teach the people who I counsel wht I call “The Three A’s” – 1) Admit You Were Wrong, 2) Apologize For Your Wrong and 3) Ask For Forgiveness. I have found that Michael is right. The are indeed the most difficult words to speak. As a husband and father I have tried to model this way of life. It’s tough but the results in the lives of those closest to you, and in your own life, are invaluablbe. Thanks for this post.

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  • Jeremy Reivitt

    Michael,  Thanks for reposting this blog.  I am amazed that so many times it is the simplest things that we don’t do well.  Another item for perspective, a wise friend once told me to even avoid using “Can you forgive me?” since this puts the responsibility back into the other persons lap.  He told me to instead ask, “How can I make this situation right?”  Knocked my socks off.  Keep up the great work.

  • Ebenezerspastor

    Excellent post!

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  • Matt Clark

    Truer words have never been spoken. I’m sitting here, on this Saturday, reading over my notes for my nephews wedding and use the “12 Words of Commitment” in every ceremony.
    – I was wrong
    – I am sorry
    – Please forgive me
    – I love you

    The “I love you” is usually the easy one.
    I used to think the tough one was “I was wrong”
    But I tend to think it’s hardest to ask your spouse “please forgive me”.

  • http://twitter.com/bonni208 Bonni Stachowiak

    Great post! I always look forward to seeing one of your posts show up in my RSS feed.

    The one piece I think that is missing, though, is the part of the apology where you describe how you will work to avoid having something like this happen in the future. STEPS: 1) I’m sorry. 2) Here’s what I did. 3) Here’s what I’ll do in order to have it not occur again. 

  • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt


  • http://www.extremejohn.com Extreme John

    Though it’s really hard to utter these words but sometimes these are the very words that could only make things better – warm, sincere, simple yet effective.  Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.beyondhorizons.in Beyond horizons

    Great post!

    Saying sorry can be difficult, but it is very very necessary sometimes. I liked the way you split it into 3 parts. And I see now how each part is just as important.

    On a parallel note, I read something on similar lines by Terry Starbucker called ‘Six words that will save you time, effort and money – and preserve your sanity’ (http://www.terrystarbucker.com/2011/05/25/six-words-that-will-save-you-time-effort-and-money-and-preserve-your-sanity/ ). I thought it’d be a relevant read.

    – Sindoora (http://www.beyondhorizons.in)

  • http://www.andymcmillan.com Andy McMillan

    This is an incredible post. Very well thought out. 

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  • http://www.bretmavrich.com Bret Mavrich

    Man, the couple in your picture have really been through the ringer. Here they are over at RelevantMagazine.com.  http://ow.ly/5tJDf

    (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

  • http://twitter.com/sweetrunpastor Pastor Mark Booth

    This truth of this post is palpable.  I really appreciate your comments.  Understood and practiced consistently, it will change your life.  Yeah, it’s hard to do but it will improve your relationships with everyone from your spouse to your fellow employees at work.  Nothing is as important as the integrity to admit you are wrong and intentionally say so in this manner.

    As a pastor and clinical counselor for nearly thirty years, and in my own life I have seen this work over and over to change the lives of people who are struggling with many ingrained bitternesses.  Michael, you have given a good prescription for intentional integrity in relationships.

    In my teaching and counseling I have referred to this as “The Three A’s.”  First, we ADMIT we were wrong.  Second, we APOLOGIZE for our words or deeds.  Third, we ASK for forgiveness.  I have found in my own practice with my family and friends, ASKING is the most important and the most challenging.  

    It’s the most challenging because it takes genuine relationship to a different level.  ASKING for forgiveness takes acknowledging to a much higher plane – it makes me much more vulnerable than simply ADMITTING and APOLOGIZING does.  ASKING for forgiveness opens me up, makes me clearly transparent and places me in a position of possible rejection.  Therefore, being so transparent and open to rejection, I must trust God.  Indeed, one of the clearest visual examples of trusting God that we can give people is the willingness to suffer rejection for what is right.

    ASKING for forgiveness is so very important because it provides an opportunity for the disagreement or relationship breakdown to end.  The personal vulnerability and trust in God that is involved in ASKING for forgiveness and the willingness to wade into the sinky waters of my own humiliation from my sin, defeats my adversary’s attempts to turn one simple sin or mistake into what could become years of bitterness and broken friendship.

    An equally valuable effect of ASKING for forgiveness is that it places control into the hands of the person I just offended or hurt.  It gives them the opportunity to trust God by forgiving me, in the same manner that I am trusting God to be so vulnerable.

    If you will practice, in each of your relationships, these “Ten Important, But Really Important Words,” you will change your life and the lives of those you love and care for.  As my mother counseled me decades ago, “Mark, if it’s tough to do, then it’s probably the right thing and worth the effort.”

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