If you’re going to do something tonight you’ll be sorry for tomorrow morning, sleep late.

— Henny Youngman

So, you messed up.

The good news is that you are an emotionally mature person that is willing to take responsibility for your mistake and try to make it right. Right? Of course. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this.

So first, take a deep breath and welcome yourself to the human race. Everyone makes mistakes. 

Second, congratulate yourself for your willingness to use the mistake to evolve into a better version of yourself.

Now you can get on to the business of making it right.

So the thing about apologies is that if you do it wrong it’s almost worse than not doing it at all. I don’t say that to discourage you, I say that because the information I’m about to give you will help you do it right.

The Secret to Apologizing in a Non-Sucky Way

There is a secret to apologizing and you can use this secret to apologize to anyone in the most authentic and powerful way possible.

The secret is to apologize to the person you’ve offended based on their personality. Talk to them the way they need to be talked to.

A lot of times people get this wrong. They think that their way of showing they are sorry will be immediately, correctly or easily understood by the other person.


You have to meet them where they are if you want the apology to mean anything whatsoever to them.

So how do you do that? Here is an insider’s breakdown for you of how to apologize to each of the personality types, so you can stop guessing and get to groveling (just kidding).

But first, a little info about the personality types. The personality types you will see below are described in terms of the element of nature that their personality most closely resembles – Earth, Air, Water or Fire. In my personality system that I use when I work with my coaching clients, I call this their Strongest Element. (Click here to take the Quiz and find out which is YOUR Strongest Element.)

The Earth Element

Earth Element personalities are drawn to order, structure and tradition. They are highly dependable, responsible, and reliable. They respect authority. They love crossing off their to-do lists. They are parental. On a bad day, they can be stubborn martyrs. But like the Earth, they are solid and stable.

Why you are apologizing to an Earth Element:

·      You have disappointed them by not keeping your word about something.

·      You have offended them by being late.

·      You have forgotten an anniversary, birthday or other important date.

How to apologize to an Earth Element:

The most important thing they want to know is that the thing you are apologizing for will not happen again. They are less interested in the flowery overtures or emotional pleas and more interested in you showing them what you will do differently in the future (e.g. putting important days in your calendar). The issue here is about them knowing they can depend on you again.

The Water Element

These people are sympathetic, caring listeners. You feel comfortable confiding in them instantly. They focus on developing potential – in themselves and in others. They are romantic, compassionate and empathetic. On a bad day they are fickle drama queens. But like an ocean wave on a summer day, they are warm and nurturing.

Why you are apologizing to a Water Element:

·      You have lied to them

·      You have lied about them

·      You have broken trust in some way and they are deeply hurt

How to apologize to a Water Element:

The most important thing they want to know is that they can trust you again. They don’t take lies lightly and it is the hardest thing for them to forgive. To regain their trust you are going to have to be vulnerable. The more of your authentic remorse you can show them the easier it will be for them to believe you and accept your apology. This isn’t the time to retreat emotionally or point fingers back at them; if you really value the relationship then be real with your apology and go deep. FYI – they also appreciate dramatic and romantic gestures.

The Air Element

Air Elements are open-minded, logical, rational people. They consider all sides of a situation before making decisions. They research. They are experts in whatever they are passionate about. They explore big ideas. They are intellectual and academic by nature and comfortable with complexity. On a bad day they can be sarcastic perfectionists. But like a wide-open sky, they are all about possibilities.

Why you are apologizing to an Air Element:

·      You have finally expressed your resentment of their need for alone time

·      You have devalued their intelligence (intentionally or unintentionally)

·      You have taken credit for their idea(s)

How to apologize to an Air Element:

The most important thing you need to communicate to an Air Element is that you respect them, their time and their intellect. You will need to do this in the most straightforward way possible; be brief and to the point. Air Elements are not comfortable with overly emotional displays so keep yourself as calm as possible. If you can present new facts that shed a different light on the situation do so, they will be interested. However, offering excuses will only backfire.

The Fire Element

Fire Element personalities are always in motion. They are energetic go-getters. Of all personality types, Fire Elements are the most comfortable with change. They are determined, resourceful and able to rebuild easily. Naturally optimistic and charismatic, they are often the life of the party. On a bad day they can be competitive and self-destructive, but like a roaring bonfire, they are magnetic and dynamic.

 Why you are apologizing to a Fire Element:

·      You have tried to limit their freedom

·      You have insulted their level of skill

·      You have embarrassed them in front of others

 How to apologize to a Fire Element:

Fire Element personalities do not often hold petty grudges. It takes a lot to really offend them, however once offended their competitive nature takes over. The most important thing you need to communicate to a Fire Element is that you are still on the same side. Apologize face-to-face, man-to-man. Shake hands. Mean it. If they let you, offer to take them out for drinks afterwards. They forgive easily, so there is a good chance you will be chummy again by the end of the night.

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