The day after this week’s Oscar telecast, a local Fox news anchor described Lady Gaga’s music as “jigaboo.” When people complained, her Twitter response was: “I do apologize if I offended you, I didn’t know the meaning behind it or that it was even a word. Thank you for watching.”
As you can see, she takes no responsibility for her offensive word (“If I offended anyone...”) and pretends she didn’t even know it WAS a word. (Did she think she made it up?)
You call that an apology?
After Kanye West upstaged Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMA Awards, he tweeted: “I’m not crazy y’all, I’m just real. Sorry for that!!! I really feel bad for Taylor and I’m sincerely sorry!!! Much respect!!!”
Might as well tell anyone who was offended to “Get over it!”
You call that an apology?
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), after making insensitive remarks about parental responsibility in teen suicides offers this: “I am profoundly sorry for those that took offense at what I tried to say because they did not and will not take time to understand we have to stop this tragic from occurring again. And I can’t do it by myself, but I have given it the best shot and I’ll continue to do that.”
Basically he’s saying that anyone who thinks his statement was offensive is uninformed.
You call that an apology?
These are examples of what I call a non-apology.
They might use some of the correct language (“I apologize”), but should not be mistaken for an actual apology. They are no better than a shrug and a flippant “My bad” or “Sorry about that.”
Not too long ago, actor Jonah Hill got angered by a paparazzo who appeared to be baiting him for a reaction. And a salacious photo opp. Unfortunately, Hill took the bait, and in the heated exchange with the reporter, used an offensive anti-gay, homophobic slur. He immediately apologized for what he said, taking full responsibility. “I'm upset because from the day I was born, and publicly, I've been a gay-rights activist...[but] In that moment, I said a disgusting word that does not at all reflect how I feel about any group of people...I'm not at all defending my choice of words but I am happy to be the poster boy for thinking about what you say and how those words, even if you don't intend them and how they mean, they are rooted in hate. I shouldn't have said that."
To me, this is the essence of an apology. He didn’t dodge the issue, nor blame anyone else. He owned up it. He acknowledged the gravity of the offense.
I’ll take his apology.
We live in an electronically visible culture, especially when it comes to public figures. I recognize that no one is perfect, and it must be difficult living in full view of so many. But that doesn’t change the rule: when you do or say something stupid or hurtful, an apology should follow. And if what you did or said is public, then your apology should be just as public.
Because of my background in PR and Crisis Management, and years of teaching Couples Communications Workshops, I have a tendency to pay attention to...and be critical of...public apologies. I have an extensive collection I use as examples when I teach. Some are admirable, and strike me as sincere. Others just do not resonate honesty, much less remorse for the damage caused. Too many do not address the wrong so much as they reflect a regret at being caught.
Consider these aspects of what an apology is NOT:
- About how you feel. (“I’m sorry.” “I deeply regret...”)
- Blaming the offended party. (“I’m sorry you took what I said the wrong way.” “I was wrong, but so were you.”)
- A sidestep. (“It was not my intention to offend you.”)
- Explanation or justification. (“I’m under a lot of stress.” “If you just understood what happened, you wouldn’t be hurt or angry.” “I’m sorry I slapped you, but you made me angry.”) Paula Deen got in trouble when her apology for racist comments included at attempt to pass it off as cultural.
- Negotiation. (“I’ll admit that I was wrong, if you will admit that you were wrong as well.”)
- Deflection. (“Yes, I did a bad thing, but I’ve done so many other good things.”)
- Vague. (“I’m sorry if I hurt you.” “Whatever I did, I’m sorry.” )
On the other hand, allow me to share a few aspects that might help convey a genuine, sincere and heart-felt apology, whether public or private:
- Speed. Delaying an apology is rarely a good idea. A day, a week or more sends the clear message: what I did is not really that important.
- Admit responsibility. “I’m sorry” is not an admission, it’s a feeling. I need to tell the person that what I did was wrong, and I know it was wrong. I must own the offense. Any use of words like “if” or “but” will negate the apology.
- Ask for forgiveness, without pressure or expectation. “I was wrong, and I ask you to forgive me.” Perhaps they can’t grant it at that moment. They might not ever be able to forgive, depending on what was done to them. But I should ask.
- Make restitution, if required. Often people will watch us to see if we truly regret what happened. They want to see what we’ll do to make up for the damage.
- Don’t do it again! Nothing will counteract an apology like a repeat of the same offense.
In the movie Love Story, we get that famous line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I think saying “I’m sorry” is cheap and easy; it requires no emotional sacrifice and no accountability. However, issuing a genuine apology costs, it requires vulnerability, authenticity and humility. And that’s why it has actual value.
"I was wrong to do that. I know it hurt you, and I am so ashamed. I won't do it again. Will you please forgive me?"
That's what I call an apology!