Are There Tricks to Make Your Apology Better?

Are there tricks to more effective apology?

I’m skeptical.

A recent article “A Trick to Make Your Apology Better” quoted a paper  from the Journal of Experimental Psychology that suggested a little self-affirmation makes it easier to apologize.


Better affirmations . . . better apologies? Maybe.

Better affirmations . . . better apologies? Maybe.


Karina Schumann, a Stanford University psychologist, demonstrated this by instructing 98 adults to take a survey ranking their values and personal qualities. She asked some of them to write briefly about why their highest ranked value was important to them — a form of self-affirmation.

Then she told them to think of a time when they’d done something to hurt someone else but hadn’t apologized for it, and what they would say if they were going to apologize.

Sure enough, the people who’d reflected on their values wrote apologies that were judged better and less defensive.

So the “trick” is to indulge in a little self-affirmation before we apologize. That will make our apologies easier and more generous because the idealized self-image that we all carry around will not be as threatened when we admit we’re wrong.

All Well and Good

I’m all for our apologies coming out of a sense of high self-esteem and values-based integrity.

But . . .

Apology is not easy and not supposed to be. It’s a public act that reminds us that we may not be as excellent human beings as we want other people to think we are.

The most effective apologies require empathy. It requires the offender to really occupy the point of view of the victim.

It requires the offender to not only appreciate that the victim regards the offender as an asshole, but in a limited way to agree with him.

Self-Esteem Takes a Hit

Does your self-esteem take a hit when you acknowledge that you acted like an asshole, your victim concludes you are an asshole, and, maybe you are an asshole.

You betcha.

okay not be perfect

So it should. You are not as perfect as you want to be. Welcome to the human race.

The trick is to remember that we are not defined by the worst things we ever did.

We make mistakes. We apologize. We clean up the mess. We sometimes get forgiven. The victim and the offender get to move on, though not necessarily together.

That’s what effective apology makes possible.

If a practice of self-affirmation makes that work a little easier, I’m all for it.

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