by Justin Standfield
Like many other people in the UK today, I watched the news footage of Gillian Keegan, Secretary of State for Education (and Conservative MP for Chichester), providing an apology for her rant about doing a ‘f***ing good job’ on the schools concrete issue. Watching her words, voice tone and body language on my TV screen this morning, it didn’t seem to me to be a genuine apology; particularly unhelpful was her rush to use the word “but” less than a second after saying that she was sorry.
Apologies are essential when it comes to maintaining healthy relationships, whether it be personal, professional or even societal. While a sincere apology serves as a potent tool for resolving conflicts, it’s crucial to understand the components of a good apology to ensure its effectiveness. Drawing upon sociological research, this blog article will delve into the various elements that contribute to a genuinely authentic apology.
Acknowledge responsibility – A key component of a good apology is taking full responsibility for the actions or behaviour that led to the harm caused. By clearly recognising and owning the mistake, it shows a genuine understanding of the impact made on the other person or party involved.
Express remorse – Alongside acknowledging responsibility, expressing genuine remorse is crucial. This involves sincerely recognising the negative impact of our actions and conveying empathy towards the affected individual(s).
Offer a genuine explanation – While explanations shouldn’t be used as excuses, providing context or insight into the factors that may have contributed to the wrongdoing can help the other person understand the situation better. However, I think it’s essential to avoid using the word “but” to prevent undermining the apology (Ms Keegan, take note).
Make amends – Decent apologies should be accompanied by a desire to make things right. This means taking appropriate actions to rectify the harm caused. It could involve offering a solution, restitution or simply continuing to learn and grow from the experience to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
No repeat offenses – Linked to my point above, another aspect of a good apology is not repeating the same offense. It’s essential to demonstrate a commitment to change and to actively work towards avoiding the same harmful behaviour in the future.
Give the affected party time and space – Timely apologies are usually appreciated (don’t wait for weeks to tell someone you’re sorry), but after offering an apology it’s important to respect the affected party’s autonomy and give them the necessary time and space to process the situation. Pressuring or rushing them for forgiveness can undermine the sincerity of the apology.
Learn from the experience – Let’s face it, we’ve all heard politicians and CEOs of organisations tell the TV cameras that “lessons will be learned” and often we hear it with a degree of cynicism. A genuine apology involves an actual willingness to learn from one’s mistakes; it’s therefore important to reflect on the situation, understand what went wrong and identify ways to prevent similar mistakes in the future. This self-reflection and growth contribute to personal development and can strengthen future relationships.
By following these principles, I think that we can apologise effectively as and when we might need to, and we can repair any damaged relationships. Understanding the art of a good apology is essential for fostering healthier connections in all aspects of life, but especially in the workplace – and it’s a good idea to ditch the “but” (it can always be swapped for an “and” in the sentence, which has no detrimental effect on the apology while offering a segue into an explanation that follows).