Sooner or later there comes a time when we must apologize. Perhaps we did something minor, like bump into someone on accident, or maybe it was a major oversight such as messing up a project at work. But an apology won’t mean anything all to anyone if it doesn’t sound sincere.
Civility expert Dr. P.M. Forni cites “apologize earnestly” as one of his 25 codes of civil behavior, and I have to agree. Think about the last time someone uttered a less-than-heartfelt apology. How did it make you feel? Typically a fake apology aggravates the situation even more, making the “victim” feel even more offended.
These days many people struggle to issue a simple, “Oh, I’m so sorry” when they do something wrong. Instead, they blame the other person (“I only bumped into you because you weren’t looking where you were going”) or make silly excuses designed to get them off the hook. They get defensive. Take most politicians. If they say something offensive, they don’t see it as a character flaw and apologize sincerely. They blame their advisors and speechwriters and issue a lukewarm mea culpa. Wouldn’t it be more refreshing to see someone stand up and admit their failure, apologize from the heart, and change their behavior going forward?
In my book, the best way to bounce back from a mistake is to immediately offer an apology—one that isn’t patronizing or focused on shifting the blame—and to back it up with corrective behavior. For example, if you turned in a project late, bust your butt and turn the next one in early. If you had to cancel plans with a friend, make it a priority to reschedule with him or her, stick to it, and maybe buy them a drink as a sign of goodwill. If you just mumble a “sorry” and continue to blow off plans or be late, people will soon realize that you’re all talk.
In other words, don’t just say you’ll do better—actually do better!