How to apologise properly.

Hey, you know when a ‘celebrity’ or somebody in the public eye (do I need to mention a certain Collingwood Football club president?) kind of fucks up? They might make their employer/s look bad or offend a large segment of the population. And then there comes the seemingly forced apology.

We roll our eyes in frustration, as they ‘apologise’. We feel like they’re only apologising to save their job or their PR image. Because someone told them to. We are reminded of when children are forced to apologise for doing something naughty and they don’t want to, so they spit the words out sarcastically or spend their apology making time still talking about why the thing they did was not that bad or was someone else’s fault.

Yuck, right?

Well, I have thought a lot about what makes a good apology. Because we all screw up or put our foot in it sometimes. But it’s only truly forgivable if we really nail the apology and make solid resolutions to do better in that area moving forward.

So here are my tips for making a good apology (whether you are a normal human being or a bumbling idiot with a high profile)…

Be sincere.

This might be the hardest part. But you have got to mean it. Dig deep, swallow your pride, tap into some empathy and mean it. People see through false platitudes from a mile away. Do not try that sickening lip service bullshit and expect it to be swallowed. It’s insulting.

Take accountability.

Tell the other person/people what it is you did wrong. Own it. Do not say, “I’m sorry IF I upset you.” If??? You did, or you wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. Do not put the accountability back onto the person/people you offended. Do not say, “I’m really sorry that you got upset at me.”

Because that’s like saying, “I’m not really sorry for what you think I said/did (which quite honestly I am not completely happy to cop to). I am sorry you called me on it and quite frankly maybe everyone was overreacting”.

Do not say, “I’m sorry, but…”

Don’t try to justify the thing you said/did while apologising. The ‘but’ cancels it out.

“I’m sorry but it was just a joke…”

“I’m sorry, but to be fair…”

You know the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Also, do not underestimate the use of the word, “I”. Don’t be all, “So I’m really sorry that happened to you.”

No. You should be really sorry YOU did that to the other person. It can be tempting to distance yourself from that thing you’re probably embarrassed you did, but I promise it won’t go down as well as using the word, “I” in your sentences.

Show that you understand the impact of what you did to hurt/offend someone.

Tell someone that you know why what you did was wrong and the damage/impact it caused or potentially could cause.

“I’m sorry that I joked about being violent towards a woman. It is not something to joke about. It was a damaging comment to make and a lot of people are looking to me as a public figure. I could have used my voice to speak out against the problem but I ended up being a part of the problem.”

Show genuine remorse. Not for being caught or called out. Remorse for what you did to hurt/offend someone else.

State what you will do differently moving forward. 

An apology tends to lose its credibility if the person does the same kind of thing over and over. You should mention a genuine plan or intention to do differently so you won’t have to apologise for similar screw ups ever again. How will you prevent this happening again?

Make sure you mean it, though or you could find yourself red faced again in the future!

Do not apologise with the sole intent of getting something in return.

While you may believe that both parties have contributed to a crap situation, do not apologise simply so you can skip to them making theirs. Make your apology because it needs to be made. Because it’s the right thing to do. Be true to the good person you know you are/want to be.

Other people do not owe us their forgiveness but we may owe them an apology regardless.

Disclosure: I am not perfect but I wholeheartedly try to take my own advice. It can be hard to accept that we’ve screwed up sometimes, but it’s character building to take it on the chin and do better next time. Sometimes I’m a slow learner, but I keep these tips in the back of my mind and keep working at them! They really do work in making the other person feel validated and heard.

So I hope I didn’t come across too preachy, but I got the idea for the blog post (after reading about yet another public figure making a half hearted apology for saying something dumb) and went with it hoping I’m not the only one who finds these tips useful (or wishes other people would)!

Did I cover everything? Anything else you would like to add? 

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  • “I’m sorry you took it that way” grrrrrr

  • This is a good life lesson for … well, everyone. We ‘make’ children apologise for mundane things but know that we adults can usually get away with apologising until we’re forced to. What kind of lesson is that?