How to apologise
apol·o·gy: an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.
Apologies have been topical in Australia in recent times mainly because we’ve seen a number of politicians provide examples of how not to apologise. Given that everyone at some time in his or her life will need to apologise, it’s a good thing to know how to do it well. And just as important is knowing what to avoid doing.
The most important thing is to mean our apology – somewhat of a stumbling block for our politicians. This involves acknowledging what we’ve done is wrong. If we don’t really mean it then it’s probably better not to apologise at all. Many people try ‘sort of’ apologies to get themselves out of some kind of bother. Sort of apologies do not work. They actually increase outrage so it’s curious how so many public figures still think that then can get away with a ‘sort of’ apology.
So what then are the “rules” for an apology?
- Admit what you did wrong. For example, “Yesterday I sent an email to my friends with a picture of a rat and I labeled it Bill Smith. It was offensive and stupid. It was wrong.”
- Then say, “I’m sorry”. Then stop. There should no qualifiers in the apology. These are words like ‘but’ ‘if’ ‘may’ ‘might’. Saying something like, “I’m sorry if my words offended some people” is not good enough because you’re trying to soften it off with some qualification.
- Then be silent. It’s likely that the recipient of the apology will want to vent. Holding your silence at this point is really important because if you say something there will be some kind of qualifier or excuse come out of your mouth. Saying your sorry means taking the venting. It’s all part of the process. Being mindful your body language during the venting is obviously also important. It won’t be helpful if your words say one thing but you have a different message speaking via your body language.
- Say “I’m sorry” again
- Offer to put things right.