In New Zealand we have had the recent case of ex Conservation Minister Chris Carter making a belated apology – 2 weeks after saying he had nothing to apologise for – for his misuse of his ministerial credit card and general spending ‘extravagance’.
As with many of these things it is not the ‘offence’ of this misspending but the shallow nature of his eventual apology I take issue with.
When is it correct to apologise?
Now is probably the only right time. Everything else is second best. And at some stage a belated apology turns to shallow, then finally to insult.
Why should we find it so hard?
Don’t focus on your pain, focus on the reward. Apologies are rich with reward (though that is no reason to create the need for them!).
An apology can put so many things right – even when you may feel like you don’t have so much to apologise for.
An apology is the olive branch that needs no more than words.
Do I find it hard?
Absolutely, probably one of the hardest of all things, and yet the most liberating as well.
Without turning this into a mechanistic process what are some of the elements to be present for a great apology?
It doesn’t mean you (have to) admit guilt
It doesn’t need to be driven by your being ‘wrong’. Often the best apologies are driven by concern for the other person, by selflessness on your behalf. You needn’t admit guilt but you must acknowledge others.
How would Chris Carter have been received if he had instead immediately said:
“I appreciate the concern many New Zealanders will have about my spending and I apologise to them, I respect their views and will take the utmost care with my Ministerial spending going forward.”
No admission of guilt. A strong acknowledgement of others. A commitment to do better.
(All the stronger to admit the guilt however if you know it is there).
It doesn’t mean you deny guilt.
A non-apology contains a statement like this: “I would like to apologise for X, however I regard there was no wrong doing in my actions”.
That’s like saying here’s $10 now you give me $20.
It never works. Don’t fool yourself, it doesn’t fool your audience.
You must be authentic and sincere
People are finely tuned to these factors. Poor body language, tone or gestures even with apparently the right message will always flush out a false apology. Don’t run, don’t hide, and don’t move the conversation on as quickly as possible.
Front up, be present, and allow time for the apology to settle on you and those you have offended.
Best of all is that you find a way to connect with those you have offended or upset.
If you have been falsely accused it is different. But we mostly know the feeling of guilt, of contrition or contribution to offence. Denying it or delaying admission will only ever add to unwinding the relationship further.
Find a way to apologise and do it in the moment and with great sincerity.