Dos and Don’ts For Saying ‘I’m Sorry’

Because Mr. Manners’ manners, behavior, and decorum are exemplary, even impeccable by nearly any civilized standard, he rarely finds himself in situations where apologies are called for.

That is quite an advancement from his earlier bon vivant days when he kept an open account with the finest florists in the land in the belief that a dozen – better make that two dozen – roses would smooth over most social gaffes.

More serious matters, however, required a more serious approach, and that, of course, means “scripting.”

Apologies, either written or spoken, should be crafted with such skill and finesse that they are willingly embraced, even welcomed, by the recipient. “All is forgiven,” is the response you want to aim for. An even higher level of performance results in the recipient feeling more responsible or guilty than you over the entire incident. Admittedly this is a rare occurrence, but one always to be admired.

Unfortunately, most apologizers are not very good at what they must do and, to make matters worse, a high percentage of them are hung over at the very time they need to be at the top of their game. Also remember, this is an etiquette column for MEN, and men are actually missing the gene that governs the delivery of effective apologies. (It’s proven science, just like global warming; look it up.)

Here’s how to do it:

The opening sentence is paramount. Sometimes a clumsy opening, albeit heartfelt, can have the unintended effect of making things worse, in fact, far worse. Stay away from such seemingly sentimental beginnings as, “I know you loved that cat. She was a part of your family for how many years?”

A very bad start. Anything that recalls the unfortunate incident, discribes it in photo-realistic detail, or reopens the wound that has just begun to heal can lead to no good result.

A more effective, but admittedly less colorful approach, would be to:

1) Begin with a two-word phrase, either “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”

2) Express remorse (which really is just an intensification of No. 1): “I’m SO, SO sorry.” “I REALLY, REALLY apologize.” You get it . . . Anyone can do this.

3) Take responsibility. This one’s important. Too often men misconstrue excuses for apologies (“That damn cat was driving everybody crazy. I just wanted to scare it. I never intended to . . . (fill in the blank).” You can see where this is heading. Don’t go there. Real men (except President Trump) man up and fess up.

4) Make assurances it won’t happen again. You’re on pretty solid ground with this one. After all, what are the odds of a re-run? (Unless, of course, you are a serial offender. If that shoe fits, you don’t need an etiquette consultant, you need a therapist and, most likely, a lawyer.)

Speaking of lawyers, it is important to distinguish between a “real apology,” which is to make amends for causing hurt or discomfort to another human being, and one approximating a “legal apology,” which is nothing of the sort. “Legal apologies” are primarily crafted to settle lawsuits before they advance to trial. They can be thought of as “non-apology apologies,” and any hack lawyer can draft one for you for under a hundred bucks. They go something like this:

“I am sorry if your interpretation of my words caused you undue distress. Certainly it was never my intention to cause you any discomfort whatsoever.” (Never try that one on an angry spouse.)

Finally, the notion that most individuals resist making apologies because they are so humbling, even humiliating, is just plain wrong. Far too many among us (they’re known as “nice” people) LOVE making apologies – so much so they make them over and over . . . and over. Six months after the damned cat has been eulogized, interred, forgotten, and replaced, they’re still at it, stuck on self-flagellation and redemption.

We apologize if we sound insensitive, but Mr. Manners’ advice is to get as far away from such people as geography allows . . .