I was recently interviewed on Melbourne radio station 3AW693 about how Victorian politician Geoff Shaw could make a genuine apology to parliament.
This was an interesting interview because not being a Victorian citizen, I wasn’t aware of this political hot topic that was the talk of Melbourne.
When I got the request for a live interview on morning radio, I only had time to do some quick research into how to make an apology before the segment.
I discovered I actually had the answers at my fingertips, because Gemma Summers, one of the members of the counselling directory I founded, Australia Counselling, had already written a lovely article on the topic called: The Art of Apology: A Gift Not a Grovel.
The response from my interview was very positive with listeners contacting me after the interview asking me for more details on the apology format I shared on the interview.
The importance of a sincere apology
Making a sincere apology is an essential first step if you’re wanting to repair a relationship.
If you have said or done something to hurt or offend someone else, you can’t move your relationship forward until you’ve taken the first step of apologising. We are all wired to connect and an apology is an important first step in letting someone know you care about them and their feelings.
But there are apologies and there are apologies. Not all apologies are equal.
Many people make a half-hearted apology that is quickly picked up as insincere by the other person. Sometimes a bad apology can leave the person receiving it feel even worse than they felt before you gave the apology.
So to summarise, here’s how to make a sincere apology:
- Be clear and specific about what you are apologising for. It’s important that you’re very clear in your mind what it is you did wrong and how it has impacted others. Don’t be vague or hesitant. Make sure you describe exactly what you’re apologising for.
- Keep it clean by not attaching other messages such as rationalisations or justifications. Keeping your apology clean means you’re not going to use any rationalisations such as “buts” or “because” or “you made me”. Take ownership of your apology and be direct and assertive. You definitely don’t want to say “I’m sorry if you were offended”, because this waters down the apology and sounds like you’re not accepting responsibility.
- Keep the focus on the other person, and not on yourself. You want to focus on how your actions or behaviour has affected the other person(s) and convey you understand what has been the emotional and/or physical impact of your actions. Don’t talk about all the reasons why you did what you did. Focus on how the other person has experienced your behaviour.
- Say it like you mean it—with appropriate feeling and sincerity. This is really important. Make sure the delivery of your apology is sincere. The way to do this is to check your own feelings as you’re communicating with the other. You should be aware of your feelings of regret, sadness or any other relevant feelings as you are sharing your apology. If you’re sharing from your heart, you can’t go wrong.
- Remain quiet while the other person decides to accept your apology or not. Just because you’re apologising does not mean the other person has to accept it. Be prepared for your apology to be accepted or declined. This part is out of your control because in the end, it’s up to the other whether they accept your apology. Stay silent while they consider your apology and allow the other party to take more time to consider your apology before they respond.
Transcript of interview:
Ross: Now what’s going to happen today is that Geoff Shaw is going to apologise to the people of Victoria for what he’s done.
Dennis Napthine is then going to adjudicate as to whether the apology is good enough. Which is why we find ourselves in the company of Clinton Power, founder of Australia Counselling; website that provides people with a range of counsellors around Australia and he has advice about appropriate apologies. Clinton, good morning to you!
Clinton: Good morning, Ross!
Ross: Let’s talk about, to properly assess Geoff Shaw’s apology in the parliament today, let us suggest to you some things that we think should be in it and things that should not be in it. Surely, must it contain the expression “I am sorry.”
Clinton: Absolutely, I think it’s critical, you need to take responsibility for your actions if you want the apology to be sincere.
Ross: Should it also have the expression in it, “If I have offended anyone?”
Clinton: Absolutely not, because this is all we call like a kind of a qualification or a justification and it really reduces the quality of the sincerity of the apology.
Ross: We’re in total agreement. So it must contain the words I am sorry, must never contain a statement such as John outlined. Neither must it contain a statement containing the word regret.
Clinton: Well, again, I think it may dilute your message. I think to have an effective apology, you need to come from a place of humility and really, from a place of sincerity. And most people can pick up very quickly if it’s not a sincere apology.
Ross: And it should contain, should it, the expression “I apologise?”
Clinton: I believe so. I think you need to be very clear that you are apologising. You need to be very specific about what you are apologising about.
John: How can it be a sincere apology if he’s being forced to make it?
Clinton: Well, I think this is a dilemma in a way, isn’t it? Because the most effective apology really should come from a place of you wanting to give it as a gift to the other, not that you’re being requested. So, you know, I think that’s a problem.
Ross: Does it also affect, the time lapse between the offense and the apology? Does that make the difference?
Clinton: Well, a late apology is always better than no apology. But of course, when you’re trying to repair a relationship, make the situation better, the quicker you can start the repair process is always going be the best result.
Ross: Tell us more about apologies, what they should contain, and how they make an affect.
Clinton: A really effective apology is a 5-step process. First of all, you need to be very clear and specific, as we mentioned, about what you are apologising about. You also need to keep it clean. No buts, no rationalisations, no justifications. The third part is you need to focus on the other. So make it very much about the other, don’t keep talking about yourself. The fourth part is to say it like you mean it. That’s why we’re saying be sincere, come from a place of humility. And the final part is to remain quiet while you wait to see if the other decides to accept your apology. And of course, that person may not accept your apology, you don’t have a say over that.
Ross: Okay, interesting. If it fails any of those constituent elements, it fails.
Clinton: I think so, I think so.
Ross: Okay, we have outlines for Dr. Napthine, and his adjudication of a genuine apology. Or we may check on you, Clinton, tomorrow for Jeff Shaw’s apology a mark out of 10.
Clinton: I’d love to talk to you.
Ross: Good on you.