So Sorry: Seven Steps To Better Apologies

Friday, January 10, 2014

(Ezzan Yusop/flickr)

Governor Christie is the latest politician to apologize publicly -- did he do it right? Lauren Bloom gives him a C minus. The author of Art of the Apology: How, When, and Why to Give and Accept Apologies offers tips on how to make up when you've screwed up. Plus, play our famous political apologies quiz at the bottom of the page!

Seven Rules for Apologizing Well

  • It's Not About You. Bloom says Christie started out well, but then committed the cardinal sin of making the apology all about him and his problems. Stick to the hurt you've caused, to the hurt the hurt has caused you.
  • Be Sincere. Bloom says "it's the essence of an apology."
  • Don't Lie. If You Did, Apologize Twice. If you've lied, making a sincere apology makes it incredibly difficult. But if it has happened, be sure to apologize both for what you did in the first place and for lying about it.
  • Don't Demand Forgiveness. "Forgiveness is a gift," she says, and not necessary for an apology to be effective. An apology is something you owe, but they don't necessarily owe you anything back.
  • You Have To Care. "Compassion is the essence of an apology. It's reaching out and telling people that you understand." 
  • Wait Before You Apologize. "Take time to think about it, and why you are really sorry.” That will make your apology specific and heartfelt.
  • I'm sorry you feel that way... I'm sorry if... I'm sorry but... Just don't even go there.

Are you famous? If you find yourself in a place where a public apology is necessary, apologize both publicly and privately. The public apology may be broad, but also be sure to go apologize about the more particular thing in private to the people you've hurt. And tell the public that you've made the private apology -- "It's easier for the public to accept an apology if they know a private apology has also been made."

Good luck! 


Lauren Bloom

Comments [18]

Mark from Mount Vernon

I challenged a woman who said "I'm sorry if something I said offended you."
Told her the apology should have been for the words she used, not my reaction.

Feb. 18 2014 07:17 AM
oscar from ny

Its gonna be pleasure to kill these dum money grooving devils...they make me sick with their wall and there banging their head agaings a wall...I swear to the universe the least will be your king

Jan. 10 2014 08:48 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

For what seems to be the 10,000th time, Clinton NEVER SAID, "I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky". He said, "I did not have SEXUAL RELATIONS with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky". What he said was absolutely true. They never engaged in sexual intercourse. By misremembering his quotation as the more generic "sex" rather than the actual "sexual relations", our memories become the liars and we can cast him as a bigger liar than he actually was.

[I learned by posting this on FB that there are some who think that 'sex' and 'sexual relations' are the same thing. And I'm just being a hair-splitting a--hole. For me, sexual relations (for heterosexuals) includes the possibility of procreation if the subjects were capable of bearing children.]

Jan. 10 2014 04:22 PM
John A

The old usage "Excuse Me" always seemed to be about politeness. The common usage that replaced it "I'm Sorry" never seemed authentic in it's sorrow. The first suggests that the person will stop and continue the apology if you are not satisfied, the second more fequently is used in a 'drive by' manner - sorrie,byee!

Jan. 10 2014 12:02 PM
fuva from harlemworld we really believe that Christie fired such a high official and did NOT speak to her? What would be the rationale? This is just another avenue of investigation.

Jan. 10 2014 12:00 PM

"He is absolutely authentic"

Please tell me that she didn't just say that. This lady is flat out gullible.

Jan. 10 2014 11:57 AM
Rachel from Greenpoint

My partner and I practice NOT apologizing to one another unless it's truly, truly a moment when we've hurt one another. I find that profuse, over-zealous apologizing often stands in for not believing in yourself. On top of it, it takes away from the value of a true, deeply felt apology.

Jan. 10 2014 11:57 AM

No, we don't apologize enough.

But, apologies are inherently passive agressive.

Also, people use apologies to get them off the hook.

There is no acceptable come back that doesn't make the agrieved party look bad.

People don't want hooey apologies. They want contrition and recumpence.

Jan. 10 2014 11:55 AM
dg from nyc

Surprised at the self-absorbed nature of Christie's apology? No - just look back at his keynote ME-ME-ME speech at the 2012 Republican national convention.

Jan. 10 2014 11:55 AM
Aaron from Queens

Why do politicians seem to always need to apologize?

Is it because politicians tend to be poorly behaved by personality?

Or is that rising to the top of power structures requires underhanded tactics?

Or something else?

Jan. 10 2014 11:55 AM
Miguel from Norwalk, CT

It totally drive me crazy when someone says something like "I'm sorry you feel that way." I don't think it's possible to apologize for someone else's actions. Am I wrong?

Jan. 10 2014 11:53 AM
cheryl rose from New City, New York

My children are adults now but when they were in nursery school I made a very insensitive comment about one of my best friend's children who was also my son's best childhood friend. I saw it as an observation..but she was the mother...she viewed it as judgmental and insulting. She dropped a note in my mailbox that said she didn't think she could have a friendship with me any longer. I was devastated. I went out and bought a huge bouquet of flowers and her favorite chocolate and went to her house the very next morning to apologize and tell her I did not realize how my comments would make her feel. We are friends to this day, 25 years later. She said my immediate actions and response in such a sincere way clinched the apology.

Jan. 10 2014 11:52 AM
iky from Brooklyn, NYC

As a non-American, coming from a different culture/country, I realize that many people in this culture seem to see an 'apology' as something you could 'offer.' Living in NYC for 20+ yrs, I have seen/met numbers of people who understand a sincere apology, however I have also met many others who seem to have no clues or seem to have a difficulty to understand a basic concept of apology coming from one's heart.

Jan. 10 2014 11:50 AM
Michele from NJ

Thank God he didn't a Jimmy Swaggart apology, tears, sobs and drama. But he did look like he might have gone that route at one point.

Jan. 10 2014 11:48 AM
Andrea from Philadelphia

Could the guest talk a little more about the trope of "I apologize IF I offended anyone. . ." I think this is a relatively recent development and suggests that the apologizer doesn't really think they did anything wrong which raises the question of why the person is "apologizing" in the first place.

Jan. 10 2014 11:47 AM

The significance of Christie's speech yesterday will not go down for being a demonstration by a prominent politician of how to correctly apologize. It will go down for how to masterfully declare your incompetence. We just saw the man at his best.

If he becomes president, I predict that yesterday's speech will be ringing in the ears of us all.

The question now is, shoe on the other foot, what would Christie do with Christie's speech? As a prosecutor there's no doubt he has seen this position dozens of times and knew just how to twist the knife. What…would…christie…do?

Jan. 10 2014 11:40 AM
oscar from ny

Don't be sorry be careful

Jan. 10 2014 08:33 AM
Robert from NYC

I guess that's what Christy is doing today?

Jan. 09 2014 11:51 AM

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