The Art of a Well-Delivered Apology

We all screw up. It’s part of the human condition. But skipping or flubbing an apology can cause more damage than the original offense. However, delivering one well, can not only redeem you from a slip-up, but can elevate you in the eyes of the recipient. There are a few necessary components to a great apology, so if you owe one to someone, or you expect to screw up again at some point in your life, you may want to take note of these.

  • It’s not about you – I know many people who need to commit a federal offense in order to give an apology, and even that’s not guaranteed. These people often think apologizing lowers them in some way. They confuse apologizing with groveling (which is sometimes necessary, depending on the “crime”). A well-delivered apology, however, considers how the other person feels, and has little to do with you. The recipient is not thinking less of you for apologizing if it’s necessary.
  • Show you understand – While “I’m sorry” is a good start, a top-notch apology takes it a step further. It demonstrates that you understand why an apology is necessary in the first place. Let’s say you had to cancel last-minute on an outing with your girlfriends (again). Sure, “I’m sorry” may soothe some irritation, however, “I’m sorry, girls, I know how frustrating it must be to have be bail out last minute (again). It may not seem like it, but I do respect your time and our relationship, and I’m so sorry to have to do this again. I promise to explain everything when we get together again.” This lengthier apology shows that you understand how the other party must feel, and you’re sorry for that.
  • Apologize for the result, not the intent – This is the piece that can get people tangled up. In the example above, the friend that had to cancel again may be caring for a sick parent or child, and isn’t about to apologize for that. They are apologizing that the last-minute cancellation resulted in their friends potentially feeling unvalued and disrespected.
  • Make a peace offering if necessary – If you know words just aren’t enough, offer something to help show you are sincerely sorry. This could be buying the first round of drinks at the next get-together, or some other gesture that would benefit the recipient. This is important, also, because you don’t want to give someone license to keep holding a small transgression over your head.
  • Big mistakes take time to forgive – even with the most heartfelt, genuine apology, big mistakes will require time to forgive. Respect this if you find yourself in this situation. Giving an apology is like giving a gift to another person. They may or may not accept it, but the simple act of giving one should, at the very least, ensure you can sleep easy knowing you did what you could.
  • Don’t be a professional automaton – If you owe someone an apology, even in business settings, don’t be hyper-professional and offer a cold “please accept my apologies for the inconvenience.” This does not come off as genuine or sincere. Be human, speak human. If you promised a salesperson an hour to share their proposal with you, and after driving 3 hours to see you, the meeting is cut to 15-minutes, sincerely apologize, acknowledging their 3-hour drive, and offer to connect via a phone conference, webinar, or by inviting them to return for another meeting in the future, with lunch on you.

I have both given and received really crappy apologies, and they tend to only exacerbate an already awkward situation. I hope these help you to avoid that. Mistakes happen, it’s how we handle them that shows what we’re made of!

Your turn, which of these tips have helped smooth over a screw-up you, or someone else, made? Share in the comments section.

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Comments

  1. This is such an important message! For everyone! So many times when I have received apologies in business, the person really doesn’t feel like they are getting the inconvenience or other challenges created.. because it is not about them. For myself, I am impatient and so much want to make wrongs right that I probably would need to allow the other party time to move forward.

    • I’m like you, Pam, I’m quick to forgive and forget that not everyone is like that. It can be tough being patient, but worth it if I’m truly sorry about something. Thanks for commenting!

  2. It is true that big mistakes take time to forgive. We apologize not just because we need others forgiveness, but to have a peace of mind for ourselves knowing we did we could to help others feel better, so we can have a decent sleep at night.

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