5 Meaningless Apologies…And One That Works

You’ve probably experienced it before, maybe more times than you care to count. You know…somebody apologizes to you, but the apology is cluttered with background noise. Rather than a sincere apology where the offender takes full responsibility for their words and actions, there’s a hint of justification, arrogance, or even denial in their so called “apology.” Before this turns into a pity party, let’s look in the mirror for a moment. Chances are you’ve done the same to someone else. I know I have. 

The problem is we play games with our apologies–five games to be exact. In her book, The Art of Mentoring, Shirley Peddy describes these meaningless games that turn into meaningless apologies:

1. The Legal Game – This game involves transferring blame to the other party. Peddy says the legal game sounds like this: “I’m sorry that you took what I said the wrong way.” This tactic suggests that the person we offended has the problem, not us. I’m pretty sure I recall a few politicians and public figures using this line.

2. The Journalistic Approach – This strategy attributes every detail of the situation to an unnamed source. The Journalistic approach sounds like this: “I was told you had handled this. That’s why I reacted so strongly.”  My reaction is under my control, nobody else’s. It’s a choice.

3. The Scientific Apology – This approach pulls the situation under a microscope where every detail is agonized over. Here’s how Peddy describes it: “Did A lead to B? Was there a scientific cause behind it? You say, ‘I did X because you did Y. Perhaps if you had done Z…’ Get my drift?”

4. The Theatrical Apology – This apology is high on drama. Here’s how Peddy articulates it: “Oh, I can’t believe I could have done something so awful. You wouldn’t believe what was going on here. I mean, it’s a zoo! Can you ever forgive me?” There’s no need for the drama in an apology. It’s nothing more than an attempt to justify our behavior.

5. The Political Apology – The final meaningless apology is political in nature….as if something happened but nobody was there. Peddy says the political apology sounds like this: “We regret a mistake was made by someone. Of course, since we had no control of the situation, we can’t assume responsibility for the event.” Ever heard a large company make an apology like this that was broadcast by the media for the world to hear. It lacks heart, sincerity, and avoids any responsibility. 

So what’s the appropriate way to apologize? Consider the Gracious Apology. The gracious apology takes full responsibility without twisting things, creating a bunch of drama, or shifting the blame. Peddy asserts that a gracious apology means that we fully admit our mistake, give opportunity for the other party to respond, empathize with their feelings, offer to correct the situation, and follow the apology with action steps. 

Questions: What other “apology tactics” have you seen people use? What else can a leader do to make a gracious apology? Who do you need to apologize to?