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Word of Mouth

The Five Things Every Apology Should Include

For our roundtable discussion on the worst public apologies of 2013, click on the link below under "Related Content".

Look back at 2013, and it's clear there are lots of ways of messing up the phrase "I'm sorry".  For example, Paula Deen's first apology for using the "n-word"  basically attributed her use of racist language to being raised under segregation. Her second apology was just plain weird.

If you have to apologize more than once, chances are you didn't do it right the first time.  So here's a quick list of the 5 things every apology should include, according to Guy Winch, psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid: Practical strategies for treating failure, rejection, guilt, and other everyday psychological injuries.

  1. When you're trying to say sorry... you should ACTUALLY SAY "I'M SORRY"!  Unlike Lance Armstong, who during his exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey in January of 2013, said that he would offer some former teammates an apology for his years of denying doping allegations "whenever they're ready".  Ugh.
  2. A clear expression of regret.  It's not enough to apologize if, given the chance, you would do whatever got you in trouble again.  This is why saying sorry for the same misdeed on more than one occasion always feel a little hollow the second time around.  Right Anthony Weiner?
  3. An acknowledgment that you have violated a societal norm or expectation of some kind.  We don't expect infants to apologize for soiling their diapers - partly because they're expected to do it.  But if, for example, you're the mayor of a major Canadian city there is a societal expectation that you don't smoke crack
  4. A request for forgiveness. This step might sound a lot like saying "I'm sorry", but don't take it for granted.  If you care about the people you're saying sorry to, you should WANT them to forgive you.  So cover your bases and ask.  
  5. An empathetic statement that acknowledges the impact your mistakes/bad decisions/crack-smoking has had on others. This is where most attempts at saying sorry fall short, and if you're apology is more about you than the person to whom you are apologizing - chances are you need to do better.  Take a cue from the rapper QuestLove - his recent apology for using racially insensitive stereotypes on Instagram was pretty good, and reasonably timed.

Now check out this web exclusive interview with psychologist Guy Winch on the 5 parts of a good apology:

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