The situation: I had been involved for several years in a group my child participates in and I was put in charge of a subgroup. Realizing I needed more adult assistance, I asked for help from an acquaintance who is the parent of one of my child's school friends who is also involved.

Unfortunately, it turned out that this other adult and I couldn't agree on anything. At every single event the other adult criticized me in front of the youth. He also often usurped authority and took over running the events, even though it became apparent that he didn't know what he was doing. At other times he failed to attend, even though he had promised to be there. Outside of our events he would criticize me for things not going well. He also failed to complete required paperwork, but accused me of nagging him when I reminded him that it needed to be done.

On multiple occasions I tried to discuss things with him outside the events, both face-to-face and by email. He always denied that his behavior was inappropriate and pointed the finger at me for all our interpersonal problems as well as the problems in our subgroup.

Hindsight being 20/20, I should have told this person that his "assistance" was no longer desired at an early stage. However, I continued to let him participate. This led to ongoing anger and bickering between us during events, and eventually a "blow up" in the middle of an event, when I finally told him that I didn't want his help any more. Fortunately, the youth participants were otherwise occupied and were unaware of what happened.

I realize my reactions to his behavior were poor. Generally, I think it is best to apologize when that's the case. However, in this circumstance I find it impossible to formulate an apology that would be sincere without saying something like "I am sorry for my reactions to your poor behavior." - which would probably not be well received.

So, how should one apologize in a situation like this?

Edit: The events described above actually happened a few months ago. Initially I made a few gestures to improve the situation without apologizing (e.g. sending memorabilia from our events to him, trying to say "Hi" when we crossed paths). At this point, the other person won't even acknowledge me, even in situations where that makes things extremely awkward. I have no interest in a friendship with this person and there is no chance that we will be volunteering together in this group in the future. While there is a bit of a "I should apologize" thought in my head, there is also the expectation that he would try to use an apology against me (he filed a complaint against me with the group after the "blow up" - the finding of the investigation was - as I initially stated - we were both in the wrong). The main practical reason for an apology would be to avoid this awkwardness, since we are sure to continue crossing paths for at least the next couple years (while our children are at the same school).

  • 7
    Why are you trying to apologize? Are you trying to continue this unhealthy partnership? You can apologize about losing your cool if you wish, but you should still tell that other person that your two personalities don't work well together and that you would like to end the partnership. In other words, apologize just enough so that you can be cordial with that person when you run into him, but don't try to go for a reconciliation. A reconciliation is not going to work. And you certainly do not need to be best buddy with that person. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 1:24
  • @StephanBranczyk: I'm not trying to continue this relationship. However, 1) I do believe that apologizing is the right thing to do when you've done something inappropriate, even if it was a response to being wronged, and 2) As you say, there is a need to be cordial - or at least avoid awkwardness - when we cross paths.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 3:24
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    If the person has an ounce of integrity, he/she will reflect on her behavior if you apologize with a simple "I'm sorry for my reaction"; if not, well, he/she's probably a lost cause anyway.
    – pmf
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 12:19
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    Perhaps the apology's direction should be at the other group members, and not this person. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 15:35
  • Hank Green offers a great video which follows the advice already given here in the answers, but described in an amusing and engaging manner: youtube.com/watch?v=qc_XWlqURTg Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 16:18

5 Answers 5


How should someone apologize when both parties were wrong?

Simply put, by apologizing for the wrong that you did. A sincere apology does not come with strings attached, and isn't a chance to sling one last barb.

As you say,

I realize my reactions to his behavior were poor.

That's great self-awareness! So apologize for your behavior, and leave his out of it.

Bob, I'm sorry that I snapped at you the other day. I shouldn't have raised my voice.

That's all you need to say - anything further about "... because you were yelling at me" just sounds like you're trying to justify your behavior after all, turning it into a non-apology.

In an ideal world, Bob would hear your apology and think "hm, maybe I should apologize for raising my voice too". In a non-ideal world, Bob might not. Bob might just say "About time you apologized! So like I was saying, we should order our hats from Acme Co...".

Be prepared for either response before you offer the apology. Being able to gracefully accept the latter is how you know you're sincerely apologizing, without expecting anything in return. (This is what people mean when they say to be the bigger person.) If he does respond with arrogance, know that it says far more about him than it does about you.

You're certainly justified in declining to work with such a person any further, but I still recommend against going into the apology with expectations - it only adds the risk of you being disappointed and making bad feelings worse.

  • Thanks for the response. One problem is that he has already proven that he's the sort to say "About time you apologized! ...", which I don't think I could stomach.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 22:41
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    If he does - treat yourself by realizing it is poisoning him and not you. Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 22:45
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    @GreenMat then ask yourself why you want to apologize... it seems to be for YOU, because you realized you did wrong. If they go "about time ", then walk away, knowing you did the right thing, owned up to your mistake, and realize that others aren't as mature. If you cannot deal with them doing anything else than apologizing back (not saying you do btw), then maybe deep down you are apologizing to manipulate them into apologizing as well... which means just don't apologize
    – Patrice
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 5:48
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    @Patrice: Without going into details, I fear he would use an apology against me.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 14:13
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    If you are afraid your apologies affect the current investigation, then dont apology. Wait until the investigation is over. But your apology will look good in any further investigation. You even can bring another friend so can have support and a witness later. At the end you want to apologize because you did something wrong. If that generate consequences you need to be responsible for your actions too. Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 21:15

You are responsible for your part of being wrong - if you apologize and make it contingent upon the other person to also apologize then it is not an apology as much as a coercion to apologize. If you feel you shared some portion of blame sincerely apologize for that. The most important thing is to focus on where you felt you were wrong (if you weren't wrong, no need to apologize).

It is also prudent to call out differences in approach and as you said :

Hindsight being 20/20, I should have told this person that his "assistance" was no longer desired.

This is important to remember the next time you find yourself in a similar situation - rather than wanting everyone to be okay with everyone else and to all own their representative share of the blame, it's often better to extricate yourself from the situation.

If the other person does not apologize just leave it at that and move on - an apology is a gift to yourself to let you move on - you shouldn't have to receive an apology for that - it's on them whether they want to acknowledge their responsibility.


How should someone apologize when both parties were wrong?

-- Just like when only one party was wrong. The other party then still owes an apology, which they might or might not offer.

You apologize to make peace with yourself, to express empathy with a person whom you have hurt, or both. You don't apologize to get them to apologize. An apology is like a gift, not like a trade, and therefore not contingent on reciprocation.

If you don't feel like giving from the heart, just don't. That's ok and better than a "gift" with strings attached.

Of course you are still allowed to be angry, to feel wronged and to hope that the other person would apologize to you. But that's a separate matter.


I think you should not apologize. Or at least not say the words. The two of you were having different visions. There is no right and wrong, even though you might feel so. Even when you feel that his irresponsible behavior could have killed some kids.

Now, you've already blown up. What has happened has happened. Sometimes this happens, and it may actually help him realize his behavior might be not so good after all.

I would lower my faith in the guy and reduce the responsibilities I give to him. As you get older you come to realize you can't be friends with everyone.

UPDATE (comments):

This was criticizing and arguing in front of the kids, as well as undercutting authority.

I think it would be best to calmly disagree. Share the values you hold and give valid arguments of why that would be better. Try seeking a compromise. Try to use a positive a framing "I like that idea."

they could have come away with serious injuries (broken bones) from what he was teaching - which is part of why I said he didn't know what he was doing. –

Saying "you don't know what you're doing" has a good chance to elicit reactance in the guy. He might feel like it is an attack on his ego. It would be better to say something like: I think it is better when.... It is your 1. personal opinion, he can disagree, and 2. it focusses on improvement instead of wrongdoings.

  • Thanks for the response. However, this was not a matter of "different visions". This was criticizing and arguing in front of the kids, as well as undercutting authority.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 14:53
  • Oh, and while getting the kids killed was unlikely, they could have come away with serious injuries (broken bones) from what he was teaching - which is part of why I said he didn't know what he was doing.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 14:56

Regarding your comments about the expected result of an apology (rude answer and use of the apology against you), the answer seems obvious: Don't apologize.

Actually you answered your own question:

I should have told this person that his "assistance" was no longer desired.

Just politely thank him for his time, but it became obvious you're too different to work together on this project and for the sake of it it's better he's not involved anymore.

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