Apologies 101: Dos and Don’ts


Two separate business [emphasis added for wtf effect] articles, published in March and April of this year, highlight the power of apology and what happens when people don’t apologize or apologize incorrectly (yes, there is a proper way to apologize). The articles focus on recent business and political scandals — like the AIG bonuses and President Obama’s recent apology to Europe for mistakes made by the previous presidential administration, and what the results were of the apology given: good apology (sincere apology) or not.

Not only do the articles show what can happen when we don’t apologize, they show the tremendous social and economical benefits of an apology done correctly.

Time writer Nancy Gibbs, gets it when it comes to why apologies don’t work sometimes. She writes this about public apologies in her article  “The Lost Art of Saying I’m Sorry.”

Public apologies now play like vaudeville: the extravagant remorse of disgraced televangelists, the snarled ‘I’m sorry’ of celebrities who exude regret at being caught rather than being wrong, the artful admissions of politicians who want credit for their confessions without any actual cost. We’ve learned to peel them apart with tweezers, find the insincerity and self-interest: If I caused any offense (you thin-skinned morons), I regret it. And so apologies are drained of their healing powers.

Beverly Engle author of the book, The Power of Apology writes, “If your apology does not come sincerely, it will not feel meaningful to the other person.” She concludes with, “apologies that are used as manipulations or mere social gestures” such as apologies given because someone else tells you it’s the right thing to do or because the other person is expecting it or because it will get you what you want, “will come across as empty and meaningless.”

Peter Bregman, in the his article “I Want You to Apologize“, writes that the number one thing a doctor could have done to prevent a medical lawsuit was issue an explanation and an apology to the person suing. In the article, Bergman also lists the top five reasons why people pursue malpractice suits. Each reason is a complaint that could’ve easily been solved with an empathetic acknowledgment of responsibility by the party involved. This article and the Times article both express that states with medical “apology laws” (laws that allow physicians to apologize when things go wrong without having to fear that their words will be used against them in court) have seen a decrease in medical malpractice lawsuits.

According to Engle, some of the benefits of apologizing are, immediate commencement of emotional healing by the person wronged, an immediate sense of relief from knowing the “wrongdoer” is no longer a personal threat, and the person wronged is now prevented from being stuck in the past and can begin to move past their anger. And for the “wrongdoer,” apologizing can help the doer rid themselves of “esteem-robbing self-reproach and guilt” and help the doer remain “emotionally connected” to friends and loved ones.

So now that we know the benefits, the question remains, “How does one apologize correctly?”

If you do an Internet search for the term, “how to apologize,” you’ll receive at least 13 million results. And some even have detailed instructions on how to apologize, when to stop apologizing, and how to apologize to women. Engler however, writes that there are three R’s to creating a meaningful apology.

A meaningful apology must have:

A statement of regret for having caused the hurt or damage

An acceptance of responsibility for the actions, and

A statement of willingness to remedy the situation

Engler further states that if an apology does not contain these elements, a person will feel something is missing and may end up feeling “shortchanged.” For more on the power of apology, read Engler’s article on the subject on the Psychology Today website.

And this concludes Apologies 101. So what say you? Ready to apologize now?

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5 thoughts on “Apologies 101: Dos and Don’ts

  1. Pingback: Burning Man Sucks, Don’t Go — Redux « Queens and bees

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  5. Pingback: I Am Such An Apologist « Queens and Bees

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