We talked about the parts of a good apology. Now let’s go negative and talk about the parts of a bad apology. This list could be much longer, because people are creative and keep coming up with new stuff. It’s not a collection of useful tips, but of things to avoid.
Right then, things not to do:
Be vague about what happened. In fact, avoid the phrase “about what happened.” Not “I’m sorry about what happened,” but “I’m sorry about abandoning you and our son in the desert.”
Deny that what you did means anything about you. If you say “that’s not me – I don’t do that stuff! I love and respect my conjoined friends!” then you must say why you did the thing you don’t do, or or said the thing you don’t mean, or seduced the person you don’t even like. Do the intellectual work to figure this out.
Take a swipe at the injured party. Do not say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, but you sure cry easy.” (If you say this, by the way, they will cry again. Possibly they will cry while hitting you with something.) These swipes come under the previous discussed topic of the Poisoned Apology, an ugly classic.
Special note to children: leave out the word “stupid.” It makes the apology seem insincere. So say “I’m sorry I tore your teddy bear’s leg off,” and not, “I’m sorry I tore your stupid teddy bear’s stupid leg off, stupidhead.” Also “cry-baby.”
Note to adults: Your sophisticated vocabulary doesn’t help. “Okay, I’m sorry I ripped the shitty little peplum on your shitty little cocktail dress I borrowed, shithead.” It just makes you sound like a toddler well past their bedtime.
Be irrational. A ploy in which you willfully decouple things that go together. “Don’t make it so personal. When I said the world would be a better place if all food bloggers were waterboarded every time they photographed their meal, that wasn’t about you. Your blog is great! The pictures are the best part.”
Minimize your offense. “We apologize if anyone was inconvenienced.” WE ARE LYING ON GURNEYS HERE WONDERING HOW MANY LIMBS WE HAVE.
Speak Conditionally. This is the dreaded word if, or the dreaded implied if. It’s one kind of minimizing. “I apologize if anyone’s feelings were hurt when I said the commission was a bunch of barber-college dropouts.”
Maximize your offense. “I am so so sorry I didn’t try your eggplant dip. I want to die. When I realized, I was in agony. I was up all night, shaking in despair. How can I ever make it up to you?” This makes it all about you and your suffering. (“No, no! I would never make it all about me! I am dirt! It’s about you and how I ruined your party when you went to all that trouble and pureed all those eggplants! And I had to focus on me and my ridiculous allergies! And wreck everything like I always do!”)
Sometimes in apologies between friends it is useful to supply a mean word when you apologize. Your friend might not want to call you a mean word, but might obtain some relief from hearing you call yourself an idiot. Or obnoxious. Or dumb. But don’t overdo it.
Blame them for the whole thing. “I’m sorry I swore at you. I was upset because I banged my toe on that stupid carburetor you left there about 8 million years ago and never put away like you said you would.”
Why do people utter crappy apologies? To save their pride. To win an argument. To avoid doing the intellectual work. Or the emotional work. Because they don’t understand what makes a good apology, or they don’t understand a particular situation. Yeah, and sometimes to be mean.