Senator John Kerry’s recent comments directed at soldiers in Iraq or at President Bush have brought to my mind something more significant than who stands to gain politically from his gaffe. What I have been reflecting on is the most effective way to apologize.
Anyone who speaks publicly on a regular basis as I do, knows that it is inevitable that something will be said that will, by necessity, elicit an apology. It has not happened too often in my 22 years of preaching (Thanks be to God!), but I have on a couple of occasions said something in a sermon that, after it came out of my mouth, I wish I could have taken it back.
Over the years, I continue to be amazed that when an apology is in order, politicians hesitate, and/or worse, deny that something offensive has been said, which only makes the apology appear somewhat disingenuous. This happens often enough, that one would think that the best and brightest in both parties would know how to immediately handle the situation. So, as one who has occasionally suffered from ”foot and mouth disease,” let me offer A Little Pamphlet of Instruction on How to Apologize Effectively.
First, apologize as soon as possible. The longer one waits, the more people get the impression that the apology is coerced and done begrudgingly.
Second, apologize face-to-face. It takes courage to say, “I am sorry” in a public forum. Issuing a statement without an appearance, especially if the offensive comment was made publicly, will appear cowardly.
Third, under no circumstances offer any kind of justification. That will only be viewed as an attempt to lessen the offense and deflect attention away from the apology itself. If you believe your words have been misinterpreted, swallow your pride, suck in your gut, and apologize anyway. The injustice suffered at being misinterpreted will cause less heartache than the anger received from those who simply think you are rationalizing.
Fourth, do not apologize and blame someone else in the same breath. People will believe that you are not truly sorry for what you have said. Politicians on both sides of the aisle like to do this: “I am sorry for what I said, but…” Utter no words other than the ones that reflect repentance; you can always criticize the opposition the next day.
Fifth, after the apology, do not respond to your critics who will want to keep your words in the news. If you offer your sincere regrets and then refuse to speak further on the subject, the opposition that cannot let go of your comments will appear foolish.
Sixth, use the situation as a learning experience in order to avoid such carelessness in the future. The more times thoughtless words are uttered publicly, the less people will be willing to hear your apology and the more willing they will be just to assume that you are a thoughtless individual.
If this little primer has offended anyone… I apologize.
Cross-posted at RedBlueChristian.