Hollywood honchos and high-profile politicians called out for sexual misconduct. Comedians rebuked for sending racist tweets. Average Joes whose road rage confrontations are caught on camera for all the world to see. When misdeeds make headlines, the public demands an apology. But often, when a transgressor like Roseanne Barr—whose Tweet compared an African American political advisor to an ape—comes out with an almost apology, it rings hollow.
“I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if I offended anyone” are common not-quite-apologies that further outrage rather than appease injured parties. In response to the spate of #MeToo non-apologies, there’s an online Celebrity Perv Apology Generator that mocks the predictably hollow public statements of unrepentant offenders.
While sincere, effective apologies for big-time screwups are not as formulaic, they do tend to have certain elements in common. For smaller offenses, a simple “I’m sorry” should suffice, but should you ever need to dig deeper to earn your way back into someone’s good graces, here’s the breakdown of a persuasive apology.
Admit You Were at Fault
Own up to what you did or failed to do. Naming the wrongful act shows you understand specifically the harm you caused and know not to repeat it. Try putting yourself in their shoes so you can show you have some inkling of the extent of the harm you caused. Without making excuses or putting your feelings before theirs, you can perhaps show the depth of your remorse by describing its effect on you—for instance, if you’ve lost sleep over your infraction.
Offer to Make Amends
Tell the aggrieved party what you will do differently in the future so as not to repeat your mistake. Offer some sort of restitution. If you don’t know how to repair the damage, ask how you can make things right.
Ask for Forgiveness
You need to have tried in earnest to regain trust and earn forgiveness before requesting forgiveness. And understand that even the most genuine, heartfelt apology in no way guarantees forgiveness. In fact, you can apologize profusely and still lose a job, a friend, or your good name on account of what you did. Still, in order to grow and learn from the experience, one of the most important outcomes is for you to forgive yourself.