A proper apology should always include the following:
- a detailed account of the situation
- acknowledgement of the hurt or damage done
- taking responsibility for the situation
- recognition of your role in the event
- a statement of regret
- asking for forgiveness
- a promise that it won’t happen again
- a form of restitution whenever possible
A bit rigid perhaps, but it get’s to the point. A richer description of the ins and outs of how and why to apologise, can be found here. The introduction to this article seems spot on to me:
We tend to view apologies as a sign of weak character. But in fact, they require great strength. And we better learn how to get them right, because it’s increasingly hard to live in the global village without them.
A genuine apology offered and accepted is one of the most profound interactions of civilized people. It has the power to restore damaged relationships, be they on a small scale, between two people, such as intimates, or on a grand scale, between groups of people, even nations. If done correctly, an apology can heal humiliation and generate forgiveness.
Yet, even though it’s such a powerful social skill, we give precious little thought to teaching our children how to apologize. Most of us never learned very well ourselves.
However forgiveness, which is after all the desired end state of an apology, is not always appropriate or possible:
True forgiveness can only occur, Spring says, “when the offending party is willing to make meaningful repairs. But in real life, for a lot of people, that isn’t always the case. The person who hurt you could be unrepentant or self-righteous. They could be geographically inaccessible. They could have Alzheimer’s. They could be dead. In those situations, you have no obligation to forgive them, but you do have an obligation to heal yourself so that you don’t stay in a grudge state.”
In my case, I have to face the fact that an apology is not going to be forthcoming, the most maddening aspect of this being the claim that one has already been given. As Aaron Lazare says in his previously quoted article:
The botched apology–the apology intended but not delivered, or delivered but not accepted–has serious social consequences. Failed apologies can strain relationships beyond repair or, worse, create life-long grudges and bitter vengeance.
In Loathing Memory
Sometimes it is better for your own self preservation not to aim for forgiveness – this article To Forgive or not Forgive is a start though I feel there is a lot more to say on this one. Reading these stories can help make your own problems seem small in comparison - In Loathing Memory - though listening to a good stand up comic would be a little more cheery.
Do’s and Dont’s
Though it would be better to collect examples of good and bad apologies on film (a mission for the Emotional Dictionary perhaps), a good start is this quote from De Klerk apology for Apartheid (the video for which may be found somewhere in this archive):
Apartheid was wrong. I apologise in my capacity as leader of the National Party to the millions of South Africans who suffered the wrenching disruption of forced removals in respect of their homes, businesses and land. Who over the years suffered the shame of being arrested for pass law offences. Who over the decades and indeed centuries suffered the indignities and humiliation of racial discrimination. Who for a long time were prevented from exercising their full democratic rights in the land of their birth. Who were unable to achieve their full potential because of job reservation. And who in any other way suffered as a result of discriminatory legislation and policies. This apology is offered in a spirit of true repentance, in full knowledge of the tremendous harm that apartheid has done to millions of South Africans.