Background: I'm quite attached to people whom I know for a long period of time. However I met this girl A about a year ago. We share quite a common family conditions, we both accept the family constraints we are under and be optimistic about them. We have connected over the last year and often be open about each other and help each other. I am very new to online interactions, so I don't have a lot of experience and know-how of chatting online.

The Incident: During a group discussion, the discussion went to the pronunciation of people's names. When Asaid that it didn't matter, I responded "What if someone called you not by A..". A few messages later A said, "No personal attacks please.."

What I initially thought: All I meant was it would be disrespectful to say to a person. I figured out that there was no other way I could convey this more accurately than this. But still it kept haunting on me that I may have unintentionally hurt some feelings.

Goal: I would like to clear the air between us and clarify my intentions, as I believe that it was my mere inexperience that lead to this problem.

How do I apologize for an unintentional personal attack?

  • 4
    Are you certain this comment was targeted at you in the first place? Has there been considerable tension between you since then or have they said/done anything to indicate there are hard feelings about it?
    – AsheraH
    Apr 16, 2020 at 13:59
  • @AsheraH Maybe, another responded , they apologized later. We haven't talked much in between. I had left a message saying good night and she had responded causally
    – adminpro
    Apr 16, 2020 at 16:20

1 Answer 1


First, let me explain why A thought your behavior was (perhaps bordering on) a personal attack. You're using a particular style of argument, where you get someone to imagine something that is very clearly awful in order to show them why something else is at least a little bit bad. Therefore you are both saying this person is wrong, and trying to upset them. Often this is phrased in a way that suggests the person who doesn't object to the mild thing also wouldn't object to the awful thing.

Consider: we were talking about people who walk too close to you on the sidewalk, and A said it didn't matter, and I said "what if someone bumped into you and knocked you over and your phone got smashed and your clothes a little ripped and people saw up your dress?" It's designed to be upsetting and to show the emotion that some people are dealing with in that situation. It's also designed to get A to change their mind when they say they don't mind something or it doesn't matter.

So, in your case, A was being all tolerant and accepting and "ok, some people don't quite get the nuances of names exactly right, but it's fine, I can handle it" and is probably feeling quite pleased with themselves. And here you give a deliberately upsetting extension, calling someone by the completely wrong name, and ask "how would you feel?" to further engage A with this example of name errors. You perhaps cause them to feel you're saying they say it's ok to get someone's name completely wrong. So their calm feeling of "being on the side of good" is interrupted with something that upsets them and tells them they are wrong. A felt attacked as a result.

The correct response in the very moment would have been something like "sorry, that wasn't my intent" and then continue the conversation without "attacking" A again. The moment for that has passed, so I would put it behind you and not mention it again. That includes not apologizing for it if A is not indicating any ongoing discomfort. If you think there is some discomfort a simple "sorry for getting carried away in our argument about names, I didn't mean to attack you at all but I know I spoke too strongly" will probably convey your position quite well.

However you should learn from it. You can make these remarks without upsetting people. You need to warn people that your exaggeration is coming, and give them an opportunity to say they don't support your exaggeration. Something like "mm, I can see you want to tolerate a little mispronunciation here and there, but there's a limit, right? For example if someone were to call you not A, that would be too far, right?" Here you "meet them where they are" then make your point. They can agree with you without letting go of their original position. You can then either continue the discussion and see if the two of you actually agree, or at least establish how close you are to agreeing. You're not "putting words in their mouth" that they agree with your extreme example, and you're not surprising them with an upsetting example either. As a result they are less likely to feel attacked.

  • 1
    I would like to add, that clearing the area isn't necessarily all about their discomfort. Perhaps they have dropped and forgotten it but you haven't and it's affecting your relationship, so I see it as quite reasonable to clear the air of YOUR discomfort. Since you have removed discomfort in the relationship, the result is still that it will be better for them as well.
    – Ack
    Apr 18, 2020 at 18:50

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