How to Make a Good Apology

CNN posted a video last week on “The Worst Apologies in Business.” They showcased various businesses who failed, despite apologies. Some offenses are too great and the apology too insincere to be accepted. For example, Clippers team owner, Donald Sterling, was found to have made repeated disparaging remarks regarding African Americans and minorities. The NBA is taking action to end his ownership. His actions and position undermined the NBA’s efforts to promote diversity. These remarks may have damaged their relationship with fans, players, personnel and marketing partners, as well as harmed NBA owners. He has an opportunity to respond to these charges on June 3rd.

To date, his remarks fall far short of a good apology. He hopes for forgiveness, but has not yet provided a sincere or genuine apology that would warrant forgiveness. His initial response was to deny that it was his voice on the recording. This second response was to blame his friend. “I don’t know why that girl had me say those things. I didn’t know she was recording. It was like she was baiting me just to say things.” Any apology that follows such a remark will be seen as insincere. His third response was silence, followed by an ambiguous apology two weeks later. “I made a mistake and I’m apologizing and I’m asking for forgiveness . . . Am I entitled to one mistake, am I, after 35 years?” This is an example of minimizing his behavior.

In Janis Abrahms Spring’s book, How Can I Forgive You?, she lists seven guidelines in making a good apology:

Guideline one: Take responsibility for the damage you caused. For your apology to take hold, you must acknowledge your role.

Guideline two: Make your apology personal. It’s not just an admission that “I did something wrong” but an admission that “I wronged you. I did this to you.”

Guideline three: Make your apology specific. You don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” You say exactly what you are sorry for.

Guideline four: Make your apology deep. If you want to be forgiven, you admit the whole wretched truth of what you did, naming the unflattering truth about yourself.

Guideline five: Make your apology heartfelt. Your remorse must be real, profound and enduring, not self-serving – to rid yourself of guilt.

Guideline six: Make your apology clean, straightforward and uncomplicated. No “buts” or defenses.

Guideline seven: Apologize repeatedly for serious injuries. A single apology may not be sufficient to restore your good standing.

Donald Sterling’s initial words were telling of an insincere apology, and he waited until he was facing negative consequences to apologize. Don’t wait for the right time or the magic words to apologize, make time.

Or a more simple guide is “I’m sorry for . . . This is wrong because . . . In the future, I will . . . Will you forgive me?”


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