What qualifies as an apology?


The following is a posting in the Dartmouth College alumni group from another former student who gave permission to repost this. In light of all the good and bad apologizing that is part of the public discourse, this might be of interest. It certainly speaks to our personal responsibilities, as well: 

Apologies are hard. They require insight and empathy: an understanding of the impact of one’s behavior on others and an acceptance of personal responsibility. One of the particularly challenging barriers to a true apology is that it must be about and for the person to whom one is apologizing, and not a defense of self. This post was a sermon, and emphatically not an apology.

A true apology is characterized by seven things:

1. Rapid. An apology is most powerful when prompt and loses impact over time, though tardiness is not a reason to fail to apologize. Better late than never.
2. Remorse. An apology should begin – and end – with an unqualified expression of remorse. Simpler is better. I’m terribly sorry. I apologize.
3. Recognition. An apology should clearly and specifically state the reason for the apology. “I’m sorry I broke the glass.”
4. Responsibility. An apology should should unambiguously accept responsibility for the transgression and the outcome. “It was my fault.” Evasion does not work: “I’m sorry you were offended, because that was not my intent.”
5. Repercussions. When appropriate, the apology should recognize the impact of one’s error. “My lateness must have made you worry.”
6. Restitution. An apology should be accompanied by an offer to make things better without a claim that it makes things right. “I know it won’t undo the damage, but I promise to be more careful in the future.”
7. Repetition. Close with a repeat of the initial apology. “I’m sorry.”

And a true apology does NOT include:

1. Sabotage. Never hint that third parties or especially the injured party were even partly to blame.
2. Deflection. Never say “I’m sorry you were offended by my well-intentioned but clumsy remarks.”
3. Minimizing. Never say “Fortunately, errors like this are rare.” Or “…strictly speaking no apology is necessary.”
4. Proxies. Never ask someone else to apologize for you.
5. Multi-tasking. Never combine the apology with other tasks (like selling a personal philosophy).


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Style Switcher

Layout options
Background Examples (boxed-only)
Many more options included →