Free Advice: How to Say You’re Sorry

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Saying you’re sorry with grace can be hard under the best of circumstances. Saying it in public, whether in the glare of news cameras or simply in the presence of aggrieved parties, can be near-impossible.

Trust me; I’ve been through these situations a lot in my professional life. Please let me help you say you’re sorry so you and those nearest you can all get on with your lives.

Anthony Weiner, like Tiger Woods and so many more before him, stood in front of hot camera lights to apologize for publicly-disclosed bad behavior. Weiner, unlike Woods, had the added heat of a righteously (and rightly) pissed off wife standing right next to him the whole time, except for those unbearably excruciating moments when she herself took the microphone.

Woods, when he took his turn at on-camera apology was really more bizarre than cringe-worthy. Looking like an East German prisoner, not the super-winner mega-millionaire sports entertainer we’d come to know, Woods recited his pro formas from a thoroughly vetted script in an uncharacteristically unemotional monotone.

Public apologies for bad personal behavior are always painful, humiliating for all concerned, embarrassing, risky. Few people in that kind of environment do well, so these events rarely go well. No one leaves satisfied.

For next time (because there will be next times), here is the outline of how to apologize properly:

  1. I did this thing.
  2. I am responsible for its effects.
  3. I know I hurt people and I am sorry.
  4. I won’t do it again.
  5. Please let me make it better, or at least mitigate the harm I’ve caused.

Done. More is just self-indulgent groveling. Anything less is incomplete.

Following these steps has less to do with business gain or political success, which is why, I suppose, public figures rarely follow them, than it does becoming whole again as a human being.

To the extent these steps aren’t followed in practice, it is likely there are uncertainties, ambivalence, continuing fear or, perhaps as likely, the apologizing public figures are just following the advice of legal counsel instead of the wiser counsel of their own human hearts.

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