All too often when we have done something that we need to apologize for we further complicate matters with "half apologies," or "self justifying" apologies - neither of which are true apologies. In fact, the absence of apologies for wrongs committed is ubiquitous in all of society today, including the Christian community. We just don't like to admit we were wrong and need to do something about it.
What is a half apology? It often goes something like this: "If I have offended you in any way please forgive me." Now think about that for a moment. The very reason the individual is apologizing is that they know they have offended the other party - and they know how they offended.
Putting the "if" in the apology along with the "any way" makes it a very general and comfortable apology. In effect it says, I don't know if I offended you or how but should it be the case please forgive me. This kind of apology minimizes the offense by suggesting we don't know what we did and the impact the offense had on others. By making it very general it also conveniently lets us off the hook from needing to specifically admit what it was that we did to cause the offense. It may even put the blame back on the other individual for being so thin skinned that they took offense at such a trivial matter.
The "self justifying apology" goes something like this. "If I have offended you in any way please forgive me" and then proceeds to justify why we did what we did. In other words it is far more about justifying our actions than it is about apologizing for them. The apology is simply the pretext for the self justification.
What makes an apology a sincere apology? First we name the behavior or action that has caused the problem so that it is specific. Second we recognize how that behavior or action impacted another party (whether intentional or not). Third we ask for forgiveness without any self justification.
Where there has been a misunderstanding it is perfectly reasonable to explain what we intended to do which was perhaps either misinterpreted or was just careless on our part. There is a difference between explanation and self justification and the one we are apologizing to will know which one we are presenting.
Neither half apologies or self justifying apologies are sincere apologies. They are often made out of necessity (we have been called on our behavior) rather than out of contrition (we know we were wrong). But the truth is that whoever we apologize to knows whether it is sincere or not. And so do we.