How to Apologize the Right Way, in 4 Steps
Since it’s the holiday season—full of spiked-nog-infused lapses in judgment, gift-induced hurts, office party pitfalls, and inter-familial tensions—odds are good that you’ll have to apologize for something in the coming days. Here's how to do it right.
Apologies are on everyone's mind these days, what with Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin at Sony groveling for sending racially-charged emails speculating on our President's fave movies; Greenpeace International sniveling sorrowfully about defacing a sacred Peruvian site; and a Korean airline magnate begging forgiveness for his 40-year-old daughter’s flight-delaying macadamia-nut-based tantrum.
Thankfully, your own faux pas may never happen on quite so international a stage. But since it’s the holiday season—full of spiked-nog-infused lapses in judgment, gift-induced hurts, office party pitfalls, and inter-familial tensions—odds are good that you’ll have to apologize for something in the coming days. And as co-founder of SorryWatch, our nation’s premier web site for apology education, I’m here to tell you how to do it right.
Name your sin
In an initial statement, reported by the New York Times, the airline exec’s daughter said, “I seek forgiveness from those who were hurt by what I did”—but didn’t actually name what she did. You have to tell the person you’ve wronged exactly what you’re sorry for to prove that you truly understand your offense.
Fully acknowledge that you screwed up
Amy Pascal said her emails were “not an accurate reflection of who I am.” Um, nope. If you said it (or wrote it in an email), you have to own it. No weasel-y “I was kidding” or “this was so unlike me” or “I never meant for you to find out.” Offer no excuses; step up and own what you did.
Along the same lines, apologize for your actions, not how they “may have seemed” or “might have looked.” Greenpeace International expressed regret that “we came across as careless and crass.” No, they were careless and crass.
Make it about them, not you
Apologize in the way you think the other person would most prefer, whether that’s in person, in a phone call, or in an email—even if it's awkward or inconvenient for you. Think about their needs and desires, not yours.
Make reparations however you can
Pay for dry cleaning if you drunkenly tossed red wine all over your host, send flowers to your mom for calling her a meddling helicopter parent, or make a donation to your colleague’s favorite charity if she overheard you gossiping about her. And spell out what steps you’ll take to make certain that whatever you did will never happen again.
One last thing: Don’t ask for forgiveness. That’s the other person’s holiday gift to give.