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You’re Forgiven: 7 Simple Steps to an Accepted Apology

Source: Image Creator from Microsoft Designer/Bing

In the last week alone, I heard five different public apologies — from Apple, a rapper, a CEO, a Pope, and a Prime Minister. I was little convinced by any of them.

What did they all have in common? Each failed to convey remorse, reflecting hollow insincerity punctuated with strains of the dreaded qualifiers: “Sorry if…”, “sorry that….” and “sorry but…” Each sounded media spun, legally advised, and professionally scripted.

A PR crisis averted? Any forgiveness likely? I don’t think so. Yet, the cosmetic apology is pervasive and the unskilled apologist risks being cancelled in today’s unforgiving culture.

Before exploring why the unrepentant apologize or why it’s a neglected skill, let’s briefly revisit these examples.

How Apologists Get It Wrong

Apple released an iPad ad that depicted a pile of creative tools being violently crushed and failed to anticipate the social media backlash. Their response was to pull the ad, professing “we missed the mark and we’re sorry.”

Next, a holy error! In a private conversation with Italian bishops, Pope Francis made a homophobic slur. The spin doctors were out. He “didn’t mean to say it” and “apologized to those who felt offended,” claiming that “Italian isn’t his first language.”

At a public inquiry, former CEO of the British Post Office, Rev. Paula Vennells uttered contrition for 900+ wrongful convictions so often that it was devoid of meaning. “I would just like to say how sorry I am.” Apparently, she “didn’t know” and “wished others had given her the right information.”

When Sean “Diddy” Combs was caught beating his ex-girlfriend on a surveillance camera that his company had bought for $50,000 eight years ago, he declared his behavior “inexcusable.” Now “disgusted” with himself and “truly sorry,” he asked God for mercy.

And British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologized to victims of the 1990s’ NHS infected blood treatment with which he had no involvement. “I want to make a wholehearted and unequivocal apology for this terrible injustice.” It was the principle.

In each case, the apologist tuned out the voice of genuine empathy and the apology fell short. It’s not just a communication exercise. The worst examples combine insincerity, blame attribution, and deflection — all undermining the intended apology and reducing influence.

You’re Not Sorry, So Why Apologize?

No one likes having to say they’re sorry! You feel small and bad about yourself. It makes me wonder why people grovel when they aren’t sorry. Even after blatant errors, an apology can come across as spat out. I conclude several reasons for this:

  1. Form: People apologize to rebalance and revert to the status quo. Sometimes we resent doing it because, secretly, we meant what we said or did. That’s why it lacks grace and conviction. Is the straying husband sorry for the fourth affair? Is the embezzling CEO really sorry for stealing donors’ money? Or are they sorry they got caught?
  2. Appearance: People apologize to maintain face after a socially inappropriate comment or ineffective policy. Rooted in self-preservation, it’s expected in matters of public interest. For instance, Mark Zuckerberg apologized to a US Senate about online child safety. It took Liz Truss a long time to “regret” her judgement.
  3. Compliance: People also apologize to obey an instruction or to fulfill an obligation. Think of the petulant child forced to rectify a wrongdoing; or an offending manager addressing a grievance. How many airlines apologize “for the inconvenience” of delayed flights? It’s expected.

And what about the apology that never comes? Remorse is valued across most cultures. We want to hear that grovel when we feel it’s due! And we never forget who owes us an apology – curt boss, cruel colleague, bitchy friend, or faulty brand.

That makes me wonder why apologizing is such a neglected skill.

Why Is The Art of Apology Neglected?

In my book, TUNE IN, I explain the psychology of judgement in a polarized world and ten common traps and sources of misjudgement that occur when we’re under pressure or in crisis. We typically tune out the voice of conscience and common sense, yet tune in comfort, convenience, vanity, or ego. This matters.

Are you a reluctant apologist? Some interpret contrition as a source of shame, weakness or failure. Others consider it an admission of guilt and fear legal ramifications. It’s why organisations and public figures are reluctant to express any.

Is it personality based? Do the arrogant think they don’t have to apologize? Keen to preserve power and influence, are they hopeful victims will forget or their status will trivialize the error? Not surprisingly, research finds the frequent apologist is perceived as warmer and more sincere than the infrequent apologist.

Forgiveness Essential Reads

Apology may be viewed as a soft skill, so it’s not taught in schools, universities, or the workplace. But isn’t hierarchy a perfect breeding ground to learn this from a young age? It’s also an underestimated psychological weapon in business and political situations. Of course, many gain instant forgiveness, even when they shouldn’t!

The most effective apologist follows behavioral principles in the heat of the emotional moment.

When You’re Wrong, Try 7 Simple Steps to Make the Situation Right

First, ask yourself if you’re actually sorry. If not, then don’t say it as this makes things worse for the giver and receiver.

If you can’t quite decide what to do, use simple science-led techniques to overcome your uncertainty.

If you’re genuinely sorry, basic steps can smooth the path so you bounce back. Start with yourself and quickly move to the offended individual.

  1. Self-reflect. Practice apologies on low-consequence events, like punctuality.
  2. Hear the other person’s perspective without interruption.
  3. Acknowledge wrongdoing without excuses.
  4. Verbalize regret and contrition at the impact and detriment caused.
  5. Engage before animosity escalates. Don’t be too glib, clever, or evasive.
  6. Offer to make amends and follow through.
  7. Commit to change to prevent recurrence.

Above all, use apology sparingly to preserve its currency.

Whether you’re the Pope, CEO, or a rapper, mindsets and skill sets can transform conflict into opportunity, repair relationships, and foster greater trust and reconciliation. Speaking from the heart works. Mastering apology is about more than words, it’s about accountability and empathy. It’s not about making you feel better but making others feel heard.

That requires tuning in to what matters most.

Originally Appeared Here

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Early Bird