I’m sorry. What I did was wrong…


We’ve all experienced and given a “non-apology” apology.

You know what that feels like to hear and to give. Incomplete or worse. The least apologetic “non-apology” will both try to justify what was said or done with excuses, then say something like “I’m sorry if you were offended”.

No matter how triggered we are, there is never an excuse to say something in reaction to it that offends. It is rare for me to do so, but recently it happened. I said something in reaction to a statement that triggered me. The result of me reacting was that the target of my words was deeply hurt by what I said.

Suffice to say I felt terrible.

I didn’t apologise in the moment as things had become so heated. Instead, I came back the next day to give my apology, ensuring I gave a true apology and not a non-apology.

So, how can we give a true apology?

Randy Pausch wrote:

Proper apologies have three parts:

1) What I did was wrong.
2) I feel badly that I hurt you.
3) How do I make this better?”

Important messages bear repetition. Today I’m writing this for myself and anyone else who will benefit from repeating this.

In an earlier blog, “Leadership, vulnerability and how to apologise“, I wrote at length about corporate apologies and non-apologies noting:

“Three steps to an apology. Taking responsibility, acknowledging your impact, then, critically, making it good.”

So, a lesson repeated on how to apologise. Of course, it is better to pause and to respond (or not) rather than to react and say something that hurts another. Hopefully, I respond rather than react almost all the time, but if and when I do react, let me remember to give a true apology.


Also published on Medium.

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