When You Apologize – Make It Count!

Last week, President Obama said that he is “sorry that some Americans are losing their current health insurance plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act”, despite his promise that no one would have to give up a health plan they liked.


His supporters say: “See, he’s stepping up to his false assurances”.

His detractors say: “He’s saying he’s sorry to see people in that situation, but doesn’t fess up to his oft-repeated mis-direction that everybody can keep their doctors and health insurance plans if they like them.”

Pick your side on that one.

I just want to use Obama’s declaration as a philosophical launching point for what makes a good apology.


A couple of months ago, I posted some research that proved it’s good business for companies to apologize to customers they’ve wronged — that an apology goes way further than, say, a discount on the next purchase.

I also made a passing reference to how important apologies are in personal life, too.

Following the links in the original article, I stumbled on these “8 simple principles” for making a meaningful apology


Excerpted from “Apologize – and Make It Count!”

Nothing relieves the pain caused by a mistake quite so effectively as a genuine and unconditional apology.

There is simply no way to state strongly enough what a difference it can make in relationships.

The problem with most apologies is that they’re “CPI”  — Cheap, Premature, and Incomplete — “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” “Whatever it was that I did, I apologize.”

Here are some simple principles that can make an apology more meaningful.

1. Understand first, then apologize. Make sure you really understand what has happened and what part you played in it.

2.  Talk to everybody involved. It’s not enough that you apologize to the person you hurt directly. You need to apologize as well to the people who know what you did.

3.  Be specific  … so it’s clear that you understand your mistake.

4.  Apologize unambiguously. Say you’re sorry, and  be careful not to qualify it at all. That’s why “I’m sorry if I hurt you” and “I don’t know what I’ve done, but I apologize” don’t cut it.

5.  Describe how your mistake has affected you. You may realize, for example, that someone you care about deeply has trouble trusting you now. If so, you need to describe that as part of your apology.

6.  Outline the steps you’re taking to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Concentrate on actual behaviors that other people should be able to observe. Then, walk the talk.

7.  Affirm yourself. If you don’t think you’re the kind of person who sets out to hurt people, you need to say so.  You need to state in clear and explicit terms that you think you’re a better person than this behavior would indicate. You need to describe how you plan to demonstrate that over the days and weeks ahead.

8.  Ask for forgiveness — but don’t  press for it quickly. You may even need to ask the other person explicitly not to forgive you too quickly so that forgiveness, when given, will be complete.

* * * * *

Warning: just because the principles are simple doesn’t make them easy to apply.

For most of us, they represent a fundamentally different behavior, and changing behavior always feels awkward and uncomfortable at first.

Do you think the President’s apology met the 8 principles?

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