The Art of an Effective Apology

art of apology, bigjom via freedigitalphotosdotnet, ID-10066484

At some point, even the most savvy businesswoman can find herself in the doghouse for something she did or said on the job. Whether public or private, an apology can stop an issue from turning into a crisis. It can also turn the negative into a positive and even convince opponents to become advocates.

What makes an apology work? Here are four tips.

  1. Directly refer to the offense. Author and linguist Ed Battistella says this is especially hard for politicians and celebrities because they depend on their popularity to make a living. In his latest book, he gives the example of U.S. Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon who, when accused by several women of sexual harassment, delivered this sputtering, ineffective public statement: “I’m apologizing for the conduct that it was alleged that I did, and I say, I am sorry.” It was neither believable nor sincere. He ended up resigning from his Senate seat.
  2. Deliver an explanation. A good apology can diffuse the offense by showing it was neither on purpose or personal, and that it is unlikely to occur again. Never use statements such as “the devil made me do it” or “I wasn’t thinking.”
  3. Express remorse with humility. These emotions show that the offender understands the suffering she may have caused and can also help ensure that the offense will not recur.
  4. Make reparations. If the offense causes harm in a real way, the reparation can, for example, be a replacement of an object. When offense is intangible or irreversible, the reparation may include a gift, a financial exchange, a commitment to change one’s ways, or actual punishment.

In his book, Mr. Battistella gives plenty of examples of good apologies. Here’s one of my favorites, a shortened version which McDonalds issued following a major crisis:

  • McDonalds sincerely apologies…
  • We acknowledge…mistakes were made…
  • We regret we did not…
  • Again, we apologize for any hardship…
  • And, we’re committed to doing a better job in the future.
  • As a direct result of these events, McDonalds has enhanced…
  • McDonalds has created…
  • As part of this settlement, McDonalds is donating….

Hopefully, you’ll never have a crisis of the magnitude that McDonalds and many other companies have experienced, but you can learn from their mistakes. Just know and follow the rules of the sincere apology.

Image courtesy of bigjom via


About Chris Ruys

Chris Ruys is founder and president of Chris Ruys Communications, Inc., a marketing/public relations firm that specializes in high visibility campaigns using both traditional and social media strategies. Her blog, originally called "Getting Social," was launched in October 2010 as a way to share her progress as a "student" of social media. While she's still learning, Ms. Ruys has broadened the scope to include other aspects of marketing communications and PR, including blogging, email, traditional media and advertising in the blog she now calls "Proactive PR."