I'm sorry that you overreacted...
April 29, 2014 11:34 AM   Subscribe

How do you graciously respond to a non-apology without accepting it as if it were an actual apology?

This has recently come up in my life, but I'm just looking for general responses to non-apologies that are gracious and don't bait the person into an argument or confrontation. Part of me has great difficulty accepting a non-apology as if the person had actually apologized, yet for the sake of peace and just generally not wanting to engage with the person, I accept their apology as if it were genuine. I'm not sure if this is something Miss Manners covers exactly.

Is there a way to respond that implicitly acknowledges it's not a real apology? Or is the appropriate response to just accept it as if it were a real apology rather than further engage with the person?
posted by whoaali to Human Relations (46 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a way to respond that implicitly acknowledges it's not a real apology?

You should think about what you hope to gain from your response. What's the outcome you want?
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:36 AM on April 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

"Thank you for taking the time to say that."

It sounds sincere, but in fact thanks them for the time expended rather than the sentiment.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:40 AM on April 29, 2014 [138 favorites]

Accept it as though it's an actual apology. Be slightly less than subtle when avoiding contact with this person in the future.
posted by SillyShepherd at 11:42 AM on April 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is there a way to respond that implicitly acknowledges it's not a real apology?

This feels like the makings of an episode of Friends. "I know that she knows that I know that it wasn't a real apology". Come on. I think your best bet BY FAR is to accept it in a fairly neutral way (maybe using the script that DarlingBri suggests) and then just don't spend so much time with that person moving forward.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:43 AM on April 29, 2014

When someone says, "I'm sorry you feel that way", just say, "Thanks, that's a start."
posted by monospace at 11:44 AM on April 29, 2014 [30 favorites]

Is there anything good that can come of confronting someone about how their apology doesn't live up to your standards?

On the other hand, being a pushover is no way to live, so walk the middle ground: Don't forgive and forget; Accept, and remember.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:45 AM on April 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

"I appreciate that you've made an attempt at making amends."
posted by bondcliff at 11:46 AM on April 29, 2014 [17 favorites]

Depends on how much you were offended or put in a painful place by the person. Correcting a non-apology by suggesting that they remove the If and But out of the apology seems reasonable, as those words, and others, really direct the blame on you.

Some folks just don't know know how to apologize, they do the best they can based on how they have been apologized to, so I would just nod and move on.
posted by waving at 11:49 AM on April 29, 2014

"uh-huh" said very flatly.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:49 AM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

smiling and waving a hand as if cheerfully brushing things off,

"let's move on"

"let's never speak of this again"

"no apology necessary"
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:55 AM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Comedy option: "I forgive you if you felt sorry."

Real option: "Thanks, John."
posted by michaelh at 11:57 AM on April 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

I just say "ok" and leave it at that.

If I'm really ticked at them but can't really verbally express my discontent for Reasons, I say "ok" and then silently stare at them until they stammer some more awkward nonapology out and/or feel bad.
posted by phunniemee at 11:59 AM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's important to you (or you would find it entertaining) the best approach would be to ask for further clarification. This is much better than confronting them directly over their duplicity.

i.e. "I'm sorry, I don't understand. Could you explain what you're trying to say?"

Eventually the "non-" part of the apology will become obvious.
posted by alms at 12:02 PM on April 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

I would say (to your example).

"Oh, are you asking me to apologize for 'over-reacting'?
posted by HuronBob at 12:05 PM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm very fond of: "Indeed."

It's terse, but also a bit of an atypical word choice, so it's usually not received as being full-on rude/brusque (if that makes sense). I find it leaves people momentarily confused, then a couple seconds later they figure out your displeasure, but by then the conversation has moved on and it's too late.
posted by aramaic at 12:08 PM on April 29, 2014 [17 favorites]

Another thought, sort of in line with aramaic's idea (which I like and will be saying "Indeed" in response to almost everything from now on!).

How about "Of course you are.".....with a huge smile and a nod.
posted by HuronBob at 12:10 PM on April 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

At one time, I wrote many heartfelt, sincere public apologies. The result: I ended up the scapegoat for the group in question and became everyone's whipping girl. I generally try hard these days to avoid apologizing. I still do it at times but I often wind up feeling icky about it. So I try hard to find some other means to smooth things over because apologizing seems to cause a lot of other people to behave like they have the goods on you and hold your supposed defects over you for all eternity.

So I will suggest you think about the possibility that there are two sides to the story and perhaps they are trying to say "This is just a misunderstanding. I am not guilty of what you are accusing me of doing." Assume they aren't doing a great job of explaining that it's just a mistake and then let it go. Be gracious, thank them sincerely and if they really are mistreating you and this is a consistent thing, yes, as others have said, try to have less to do with them in the future.
posted by Michele in California at 12:13 PM on April 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

If you just want to make peace: "I appreciate it."

It's brief and generically polite, plus "appreciate" is a nice weasely word: it can mean either "to understand" or "to be grateful for." You'll know which one you mean, so it'll give you the satisfaction of not actually accepting the non-apology, but without being obviously passive-aggressive.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:19 PM on April 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

Yes, the easiest thing is to make a mental note and graciously say something like "thanks for that; I appreciate it." I always appreciate it when people show me their true colors.

Then, distance yourself. No need to get caught up in their issues.
posted by sockermom at 12:25 PM on April 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Different things work in different situations. "I appreciate that" if awesome is you want to suggest you know exactly what they are doing.

"Apology accepted." (Thinking to yourself, "I accept that to the extent it's an apology.")

"I'll take that in the spirit it's offered!"

"No problem" or "No worries" said in a breezy tone seems seems to bug people a little if they are taking themselves really seriously with their non-apology.
posted by BibiRose at 12:33 PM on April 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

'If that's meant as an apology, then thank you.'
posted by jamjam at 12:39 PM on April 29, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'll usually respond with something along the lines of a simple "OK." It's just enough to acknowledge that I've heard and understood them while not giving them too much to respond to. Anything more could just be futher fuel for the issue.

I might thank them, but if I truly believe I deserve a sincere apology I'll be annoyed with myself afterwards. No reason to thank somebody for barely doing the appropriate thing. If they're not making any effort to apologize and I've said all I need to say, I'm fine leaving it at a stalemate.

And I'll then do my best to behave as if the issue is actually OK and finished.
posted by AtoBtoA at 12:40 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I completely get that the situation under advisement is often that of someone making a weasle-y sort of statement, either to be passive-aggressive or to be non-committal. I would find it hard to be gracious if someone shouted me down publicly and then privately said something like "well, I'm sorry if what I said hurt your feelings," or if someone said to my wife "Whoa, didn't mean to piss you off with my remarks about your breasts - I was just kidding!" -- in such cases, you have my permission to snark away.

But having grown up in a social and religious tradition in which everyone felt free, to use Michele in California's phrase, "to behave like they have the goods on you" as long as you did not apologize to their impeccably high standards of both grammar and heartfelt intent (or, as she said, sometimes even if you did), I'm really sensitive to how shitty people can be to each other over certain situations that crop up a lot:

- something harsh is said because someone is completely stressed out at the moment.

- something is said (often with humorous intent) and completely misread/deemed inappropriate.

- something just flat turns into a muddle. Due to some Seinfeld-esque turn of events, and due to no one's intention, someone is stood up for the 3rd time in a row, or turns up late because of traffic right as the client stands up to walk out...

TL;DR Shit happens. And sometimes there are differences of opinion among reasonable people about exactly how much apologizing is called for, or even exactly whose fault something is. In such cases I prefer to just take any effort to acknowledge the situation and move on as an apology, and respond in kind, rather than waste more energy on it. If you find yourself constantly getting "accidentally" battered by such people, it's time to move on, but that's a different matter.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:44 PM on April 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

"i neither acknowledge nor accept your non-apology. from here on out, the issue is acknowledging and accepting your existence."
posted by bruce at 12:51 PM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you able to raise one eyebrow? You can learn how, if you don't already know. I cannot tell you how handy and effective it is being able to reply, "Thanks" while that "Eyebrow of Yeah, Right Buddy" slowly slides up.
posted by jamaro at 1:04 PM on April 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

"Thank you for taking the time to say that" and "I appreciate it" are both fine.

I wouldn't evince any negativity unless there was something to gain from it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:10 PM on April 29, 2014

If it is a one-off thing, and you really don't want to get into it, I would go with one of the excellent options above. I'm a personal fan of "I appreciate it."

If it's someone you know well or an ongoing issue, then I think it's best to address it directly and say -- "Hey, it keeps happening that I am hurt by your behavior, and the way we end up dealing makes me feel like you're brushing it off and not really aware of the underlying problem. Can we talk about this?"
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:14 PM on April 29, 2014

This feels like the makings of an episode of Friends.

It was a storyline in an episode of Seinfeld
posted by rhizome at 1:23 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would try to focus on forgiveness. If you can forgive the person who wronged you, then the quality (or lack thereof) of their apology is irrelevant.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:43 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Someone once said to me "Your apology is noted.". I don't recommend it, but it certainly conveyed that she wasn't happy with my apology.

I would try a "thanks" with an expression that says "I'm so on to you", if you can pull it off.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:45 PM on April 29, 2014

I'm just looking for general responses to non-apologies that are gracious and don't bait the person into an argument or confrontation.


Is there a way to respond that implicitly acknowledges it's not a real apology?

Don't coexist. You either make an issue of it or you don't.
posted by phearlez at 1:56 PM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I received one of these recently ("I'm sorry we're mad at each other") and my reply was something along the lines of phunniemee's suggestion... only instead of saying "ok" when it's really not okay, I just go with a terse-but-neutral "Mmm," then quickly move on. If I could do the eyebrow raise, it'd be a nice accompaniment. I just really wish the concept of the non-apology could somehow be jettisoned from polite society completely though. Hardly anything is more pointless or irksome in the wake of an actual slight than having your feelings further slighted in such a manner.

"I'm sorry we're mad at each other."
"Mmm. How's your dog doing?"
"Oh, he's great blah blah blah."
posted by booknerd at 2:38 PM on April 29, 2014

I think this is a great question. It's really terrible behavior to pretend to apologize by supplying the form, but not the substance, of an apology.

If somebody said (for example), "I'm sorry if you were offended," one alternative is to look them in the eye. nod, and respond "I understand: you are telling me that you are sorry if I was offended." Pretend like you're a non-directive therapist. This is slightly less hostile than the "your apology is noted" suggestion above. I also think it might force many people into an actual apology.

As a general matter, it is not a bad idea to pretend to accept non-apologies about things which aren't very important to you for the sake of social peace. But if what happened is relatively important, I think it's worth making it clear that you're not going to treat a non-apology like the genuine article.

A more hostile version is a faux-confused response such as "I don't understand. Are you apologizing?"

As a general matter, I am of the opinion that serious breaches of comity must eventually be dealt with, not just ignored. This perspective on life is in some ways satisfying, but in other ways will end up reducing the pool of people you are good terms with. For small things, it's often better just to take the non-apology you're offered.
posted by Mr. Justice at 2:43 PM on April 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Part of what makes a non-apology suck is that it's passive-aggressive, and that it actively denies or attempts to whitewash the truth of what happened.

Everyone here suggesting that some witty bon mot or some (hopefully) withering turn-of-phrase is what is appropriate for this scenario is -- in fact -- putting you in the position of responding in kind with this same type of passive-aggression and the same denial/whitewashing of truth.

I would suggest you say what you mean. Perhaps something like: "Was this intended to be an apology? I don't think this works for me as an apology because %list_reasons%." Anything less direct than that just serves as reinforcement that "it is okay for us to talk to each other exploitatively/insincerely."
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 3:35 PM on April 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

I agree a lot with the last two comments: If it is a pattern of behavior, there is something bigger going on here, etc, then you should take the bull by the horns and deal with that. But if that is not the case, I think turn the other cheek is more appropriate.

Some months ago, someone accused me of a bullshit non-apology apology. It really did not go over well with me. I did my best to slip info under the radar that my dad was in the midst of dying as we spoke (died that same day, I believe, though I got the news a day or two later as to the exact time of death). I was not confrontational about it. I kind of tried to let him "overhear" that news. He graciously decided to just drop the matter entirely. Had he not, we would likely both be carrying a grudge and both feel like it was the other guy who was the jerk.

I have long been inclined to just ignore a lot of stuff but that habit seems to run deeper since that incident. I focus not on their behavior but on setting good boundaries and making sure I am not being walked on. It is a different focus. It gets you the same result you probably really want: Not getting crapped on constantly and not becoming someone's bitch. But it is a very different approach. A lot of it is about my own behavior. Part of that is just not investing more in the fighty stuff. It tends to only escalate the issue.
posted by Michele in California at 3:55 PM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind I'm a bit of a shit stirrer when it comes to things like this, so what I would do is pretend to misunderstand them and with a bright smile, say something like, "That's ok, thank you for apologizing for offending me. Now you've done that, we can both move forward!" Quick change of subject so they can't follow up on your statement.

This does two things, you've turned it around so you actually DID get the apology, put the blame back squarely on them that they were in the wrong, (by not correcting you on this, they have apologised to you) OR, it forces them to admit that they gave a crappy non apology and makes them look worse. Either way, it drives people crazy, which quite frankly, is what they deserve for trying to passive aggressively weasel their way out of things.
posted by Jubey at 5:11 PM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I try to apologise easily, and accept apologies easily, as I find it makes me happier, and nicer to be around.

But, I acknowledge that many people find apologies very challenging. Something I have generally experienced is that many people adjust to expectation, and that people want to think of themselves as good.

This relates to apologies in that I find if I accept a crappy apology as a genuine, heartfelt apology - believe it or not - people often start to feel and act like it was, as well. Indeed, oft-times people, now that they feel safe, have a clear expectation/role they can play to, will actually follow up with a genuine apology as a chaser to the crappy one. It's quite amazing and gratifying when it happens.

It doesn't always happen, but acting nicely to a crappy apology allows me to exercise compassion and think the best of someone, which also better for me; and hopefully will make apologising easier for someone else in future. None of this implies I forget the offense and don't alter my behaviour in general, but I don't need to cart someone else's bag of shit and bad feeling around with me; I get to be the nice one.
posted by smoke at 5:22 PM on April 29, 2014 [12 favorites]

'Thanks.' Then change the subject and make a mental note about that person.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:30 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

No real difference. Non-apologies are as likely to be the result of honesty or pride as an absence of actual repentence, as dishonest or spineless people have no trouble with insincere apologies.
posted by MattD at 6:02 PM on April 29, 2014

Maybe it would be good to not assume that the apology is insincere. If you are in doubt, ask him. (Well, what are you apologizing for?) Let him describe his action to you. If he turns out to be disingenuous, then you may disengage with a civil, if somewhat frosty, "I'm glad you cleared that up."

If his explanation makes sense, you may respond with a warm "Thank you for clearing that up."

As you've stated, you aren't wanting to debate the issue, but a bit of clarification on his part seems in order. Please notice that you ought to engage this guy in good faith, otherwise you are just playing a game, which is, in part, what I dislike about insincere apologies.
posted by mule98J at 6:54 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I dislike the person, I summon my warmest smile and say nothing.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:56 PM on April 29, 2014

I really like DarlingBri's, "Thank you for taking the time to say that." because it really is the non-acceptance/forgiveness response to complement the non-apology.

And I also really like, "I appreciate it." because I don't think it comes off as passive aggressive and doesn't really have an edge to it. Yet I feel better saying it because I'm not exactly accepting the apology, but appreciating the gesture even if the gesture is inadequate and flawed.
posted by whoaali at 7:27 PM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're being nonpologized to, there's no reason not to reciprocate with complete sincerity and warmth:

"I'm sorry if you were offended"

"I'm sorry you felt that way"
"Me too"

"I'm sorry this came between us"
"I feel the same way "

Really, you don't have to be any more passive-aggressive than what you've been offered, but you don't have to accept the nonpology as an apology, either. (You can expand the phrases by repeating them and elaborating on the theme, if you're worried about being curt: "Oh, I'm so glad to hear you feel the same way that I do, I am so sorry this came between us, too!" and then transition into the theme of Moving On and Putting It Behind Us.)
posted by gingerest at 7:32 PM on April 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

i'm a fan of snatching the apology. "Thank you so much! I'm so relieved that you're apologizing. It's always disappointing when someone lets us down like that, and many people wouldn't take the time to think about what they did wrong and have the courage to admit it!" when appropriate, i prefer to do it in front of other people, and to echo that glowing appreciation on at least two subsequent encounters with that person.

we teach people how to treat us. sometimes they need a paint-by-numbers version.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 8:43 PM on April 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dude. (Or dudette.)

All you have to say is "thank you". Why over-think it?
posted by jdroth at 9:22 PM on April 29, 2014

'Thanks for letting me know'.
posted by h00py at 5:10 AM on April 30, 2014

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