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An apology expert on the right and wrong way to say ‘I’m Sorry’

(Photo by rye jessen, unsplash)

This week was the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. It’s the day of atonement, where Jews fast, atone and repent. It’s a time to apologize for things you did throughout the year and start fresh.

But Jewish or not, obviously all of us find ourselves in situations where we need to apologize. And there is actually a right and a wrong way to do it.

Marjorie Ingall is the co-creator of the blog SorryWatch.

“SorryWatch looks at the art of apology. What makes a good apology, what makes a bad apology, why do bad apologies infuriate us the way they do. The thing that everyone wants us to talk about is terrible celebrity apologies.”

We’ll get to that later. But right now, here’s the proper way to apologize to someone.

“The first thing you have to do is say the words, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I apologize.’ Which seems basic and yet we get a lot of, ‘I regret,’ ‘It’s unfortunate that,’ ‘I’m sorry that feelings are hurt.’ Also, passive voice is bad. You own the thing,” said Ingall. “Then you have to name the thing you did. That’s number two. You don’t say, ‘I’m sorry about what happened.’ You say, ‘I’m sorry I said X.’ Or, ‘I’m sorry I did Y.’ You have to show that you understand the impact of what you did. That’s number three. I know that I made you look bad in front of everybody else. I know that I hurt your feelings. You have to say how you will make it right with the person you hurt. Whether that means talking to the boss, if you made that person take the fall for something you did at work. Whether that means dry cleaning the thing you spilled wine on. Whether that means making a donation to a charity that they care about. And finally, explain how you’re going to make things better going forward. How you’re going to make sure this never happens again. But you have to think about what would be meaningful to the other person. I think a lot of us, when we apologize, we’re thinking about ourselves. What makes apologies so hard is you have to only be thinking about the impact on the other person. ”

What also makes apologizing hard is being vulnerable, and confessing to yourself and the person you hurt that you did not act like your best self.

Ok, so let’s talk about a bad apology. On stage, at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, Bishop Charles H. Ellis III had his arm around singer Ariana Grande. In videos and photos, you can see him groping the side of her breast and her looking visibly uncomfortable.

“His apology, when it came, was abysmal. He apologized for what people perceived, rather than what he did. He basically said that, you know, I’m part of the church and the church is all about love. I hug men, I hug women, we’re all about love. Therefore he’s throwing it on to us, the people who watched this, and made us be the pervy, gross people who misperceived what happened.”

This has been a doozy of a year for bad apologies. I asked Ingall if any of the men accused in the Me Too movement have apologized correctly.

“Um, let’s see, not Weinstein, not Kevin Spacey, not Louis CK. Who am I missing?”

Mario Batali?

“No! He apologized in an Instagram or a tweet and then he was like, ‘By the way, here’s a recipe!’ It was the worst. It was so random.”

One of the fears of apologizing is that you wont be forgiven.

“I don’t think you get to ask for forgiveness,” said Ingall. “Forgiveness is a gift that can be granted and you don’t ask for a gift. You do the acts of forgiveness, and then you hope you get forgiveness. But you don’t get to demand it.”

She also says you don’t have to forgive someone. Often times it can make a person feel better to forgive. But some acts are simply unforgivable.

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