The apology is a lost art in modern times. A well-intentioned expression of shortcomings and remorse has been replaced by meaningless platitudes such as “I’m sorry if you were offended by…” and “I could understand how some might find my conduct offensive.” A man owns his shortcomings, apologizes to those harmed by them, and promises to correct his behavior in the future.
Here are four basic rules for a good apology.
- It’s all about you. This is one of the few times in life that it is really all about you. Leave the other person out of your shortcomings. Any expression of guilt that involves the word “you” is insufficient. “I am sorry that you were offended by my behavior” — for example — indicates that some people, perhaps even the average person, would not have been offended by the behavior and that at least part of the guilt belongs to the other person for being so sensitive. Own up to your mistakes like a man and allow the other person to apologize for any of their own shortcomings if and when they feel like it.
- Specifically identify what you did wrong. Let the other person know that you can identify the shortcoming that upset them. A simple “sorry” is for children. Putting your finger on the specific shortcoming communicates to the other person that you carefully reflected on the shortcoming and listened to feedback. It also communicates to the other person that because you understand the shortcoming, you are highly unlikely to repeat it in the future.
- List future corrective actions. Listing future corrective actions communicates to the other person that you take the shortcoming seriously and are willing to undertake the time and effort necessary to fix it permanently.
- Make the apology unconditional. There’s nothing worse than an apology that uses the word “if.” For example, we often hear athletes condition an apology by stating that they apologize “if anyone was offended.” The very fact that an apology is being issued through the press indicates that people were in fact offended. Again, this indicates that the normal person might not be offended and that the apology is really directed at the fact that there are so many sensitive members of society (which may be true but also besides the point). Own up, unconditionally.
Finally, it should be noted that prudence, above all, should govern apologies. Apologize when you are wrong and have affected another with your shortcoming. Do not apologize so frequently and for such trivial matters so that your apologies become meaningless and worthless.