When corporations do wrong, they often blow their apologies.
An example: After the deadly Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the Chairman of BP, which was responsible for untold damage, famously said, “I want my life back” and — wait for it! — “We care about the small people.”
Well, we “small people” can do better! Here’s how to make sure that your apology is sincere and straightforward, and brings satisfaction to both parties, no matter what happened.
Your Basic Apology
As with most communications, this one falls neatly into three sections:
1. Clearly state what you’re sorry for.
- Examples: “I’m sorry I yelled at you,” or “I’m very sorry that I didn’t mention you when I accepted my Tony award.”
Why This is Important: The thing you regret may not be what upset or offended the other person (if, in fact, they’re upset at all). Being specific is a courtesy to them, and also insures that your apology actually addresses the hurt they feel.
2. Make a very brief, factual statement of what led to your error.
- Examples: “I was scared when you didn’t come home on time,” or “I was so excited I couldn’t think straight.”
Why This is Important: The other person needs some context to understand your apology, and hopefully forgive your actions. If you forgot to mention them because you were flustered or yelled because you were tense from worry, those are potentially valuable points of information, not excuses. (And by the way, if you’re trying to make excuses, you’re not ready to apologize yet!)
3. Say what you wish you’d done (or will do) differently.
- Examples: “Next time I’ll try to say that I was scared, instead of yelling,” or “I wish I’d told everyone that I couldn’t have won the Tony without you, because it’s true.”
Why This is Important: In many cases, the vision of what could have gone (or will go) differently is the only amends you can offer. However, if you’ve done harm that can be repaired in the real world, make sure you commit to fixing things.
And if something more seems needed at this point, try saying “I’m sorry” again.
The Strategic Apology: When You “Haven’t Done Anything Wrong”
Even when you stand by your actions, you can apologize with grace for their impact. Be sure, though, to avoid dismissing the other person’s experience with a comment like “I’m sorry about whatever you think I did.” (Ouch!)
Instead, stick with what you really do regret. Words like, “I’m sorry you’re feeling hurt; that truly wasn’t what I intended” show respect for both people, and let you both be right.
That’s a great thing for an apology to accomplish!