by Connie Dieken

How to Apologize Effectively

Kayne West-Jay Leno

There sure are a lot of high profile apologies floating around this week - Kayne West, Serena Williams, Rep. Joe Wilson. Which brings me to you.

Apologizing effectively can bolster your credibility and convince others to change their minds and take action.

Don't toss around "I'm sorry" like a football on Thanksgiving Day. Some people rush to retract big transgressions merely to protect their backsides, which is perceived as insincere. Others over-apologize for small acts, dripping with contrition, which damages their credibility. Both of these tactics are ineffective. Like antibiotics, apologies become ineffective with misuse.

The trick is to understand the art of the apology and follow the right steps. Here are some tips straight from page 124 of my new book, Talk Less, Say More, to generate goodwill with a contrite but classy apology:

If an issue embarrasses you, you might instinctively avoid it in an effort to save face. Instead, you'll look insensitive. A good, honest apology mends relationships and reputations.

  • Hit the hot button. Focus specifically on the emotional hot button. If you're criticized for being irresponsible, for example, apologize for your lack of judgment.
  • State the solution. If there's a remedy to your transgression, share exactly how you're going to make it right. This will prevent future arrows from being slung at you.
  • Focus on the recipient. An apology involves much more than a quick "Oops--sorry!" Make sure the recipient knows that you fully understand the impact of your transgression and that you won't let it happen again.
  • Don't blame the victim. You'll sound pompous and insincere. Don't begin with "If I offended anybody..." That sounds like you're blaming a resentful person for being overly sensitive to remarks that you feel you obviously didn't intend as an affront. Instead, take responsibility. Say something like, "I offended you and I'm sorry."
  • Time is of the essence. Apologize as soon as possible. In today's Internet age, you can't wait for the Web to spread bad things before you express your contrition, or people will be convinced that you're guilty and don't care.
  • Don't inflict wounds. Likes like "No offense, but..." and "Don't take this personally, but..." are passive-aggressive. You're saying one thing, but you mean the opposite. What you're about to say is personal and yes, it's likely to offend. So instead of qualifying it, be honest and get to the point kindly but decisively.

Let's face it - we're all human. Which means that we're all prone to messing up and hurting someone else's feelings from time to time, even when we don't intend to. Hopefully your transgressions won't be as huge or as public as the ones you've witnessed this week on Rude Tube. The key to apologize effectively is to handle it directly, sincerely, and as swiftly as possible.


Topics: Active Listening :: Talk Less, Say More