We all make mistakes, and taking responsibility for them is a part of being an adult. But if you’re going to swallow your pride and draft an apology, it’s time to go all out. Here are some common errors that will render your apology meaningless. Making these mistakes increases the probability that the receiver of your apology will be comelled to either respond with four-letter epithets or ignore you altogether.
Mistake #1: Sending an e-mail, even if the person you’re apologizing to is readily available in person or by phone.
As our world becomes increasingly digital and people habitually ignore their ringing phone, sometimes an email apology is necessary. And an email apology is better than no apology at all. But if at all possible and appropriate for your situation, talking face-to-face or making that phone call is preferable.
Mistake #2: Apologizing privately, although your offense was public.
While apologizing privately is always appropriate, it’s little consolation for an offensive statement sung on the mountaintops. In addition to speaking to the person you hurt directly, a good rule of thumb is to use the same forum you screwed up on to apologize for doing so.
Mistake #3: Following your apology up with lame excuses.
“I’m sorry, but it really wasn’t my fault because ______” is not an apology, especially when the excuses are pathetic. This very week, someone apologized to me for sending inappropriate facebook messages by saying he was working a lot and was highly caffeinated, as if that somehow excuses his offensive behavior. “I am so sorry” is a surprisingly powerful sentence. Following it up with caveats and disclaimers…isn’t.
Mistake #4: The non-apology.
The non-apology is when you apologize for the other person’s misinterpretation or feelings, or chalk something up as an error in judgement, or regret any inconvenience you may have caused. If you’re going to apologize, make sure you actually mean it. And if you mean it, make sure your words reflect it.
Mistake #5: Telling the other person they must immediately accept the olive branch.
The person you’re apologizing to gets to decide whether to move on or not, and how long it’ll take them. They don’t owe you immediate forgiveness, and implying as much simply makes your apology look manipulative.
Mistake #6: Not taking any steps to try to fix any harm you’ve caused.
While this isn’t always possible, trying to right your wrongs in some way is always a nice gesture, so replace that vase you broke or, better yet, ask the person you’re apologizing to what you can do to try to make things better.
Mistake #7: Apologizing too long after the fact.
I’ll admit that I’ve made this mistake as well, when I didn’t realize I had made an error until months after the fact. But I wasn’t surprised when my email was ignored. Whenever possible, addressing issues immediately as they arise is pertinent.
And a bonus tip: Don’t apologize when you really, sincerely don’t want to.
If you really feel that your action was appropriate in the situation, sometimes it’s best to just cut and run rather than complicating things with an apology you don’t mean.
What do you hate about other people’s non-apologies? Or, what mistakes have you made yourself? Feel free to drop me a line or leave your stories in the comments.