22 Dec 2022

The art of the apology

Apologising is part of everyday life – as often as not, the offence is minor, and the apology is automatic. But if a victim is truly wronged by your words or actions, it is imperative that you promptly apologise unreservedly for any offence you have caused.

The first, and most common, mistake is to say that you’re sorry “if” you caused offence or upset to the wounded party. Clearly the implication is that there has been no real transgression, simply a “victim” who insists on feeling hurt, traduced or insulted.

This is the very essence of the half-hearted apology. It may grudgingly recognise the victim’s sense of grievance, but there is no acceptance that this is a legitimate response to a provocation. Any notion of cause and effect is ruptured.

Another common error is to attempt to diminish the magnitude of the offence by belittling it using humour. This is a very dangerous ploy – often it is the perpetrator’s insensitivity that has led to the problem in the first place, so it is very unlikely that their attempts to make light of the issue, or raise a laugh about it, are going to be persuasive. On the contrary, they have added a new dimension of crassness to their original offence, confounding rather than mitigating their mistake.

Humour is a dangerous device when used to defuse a situation because it is so open to multiple interpretations – one person’s hilarious joke is somebody else’s asinine insult. You need to very sure of your ground before deploying this technique or you’ll simply end up further inflaming the situation.

A genuine apology fully recognises the nature of the offence, acknowledges the pain or discomfort that has been caused, and seeks forgiveness from the victim. Half-measures, jokes, belittling remarks, teasing – these are all feeble attempts to brush away responsibility for what has been said or done.

There will be no chance of defusing a situation and no damage limitation possible until the perpetrator recognises their personal responsibility.


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