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Please don’t apologise, but do say sorry…

Will Smith’s Instagram message to Chris Rock has prompted me to consider the issue of apologising and how to do it well.  I believe it’s one of THE most important communication skills – one which can salvage marriages, avert wars, restore friendships and save corporate reputations.

Meanwhile, the absence of an apology, or one delivered poorly, can do irreparable damage to relationships of all kinds.

One of the simple communication tools for life I offer 10 year olds in schools is ‘the power of the apology’.  We call it The Dog Ate My Prep. It’s a three part process:

  1. The apology which must include the word ‘sorry’
  2. An explanation of what’s gone wrong but not an excuse
  3. A remedy – what you will do to make amends.

At the heart of a good apology is understanding how your actions have impacted/hurt/angered the other person. Feeling empathy for them will help us offer an appropriate remedy and will influence the tone and language we use.

There’s a huge difference between ‘I apologise’ and ‘I’m sorry’. The first is a verb – an action, something we do. The second is an adjective – something we feel. Try saying them out loud and see how different they feel and what happens to your upper body when you utter them. Do you find that you lean slightly forward when saying ‘I’m sorry’?

The children I work with are learning to apologise for breaking a plate or not handing in their homework and they are also learning that sorry is a word of strength, not weakness; that it can puncture the other person’s anger and that it can lead to forgiveness.

That’s why I’m troubled by Will Smith’s public apology (I hope there’s been a private one too). No sorry; no empathy; no remedy. Perhaps he should come to a ‘Dog Ate My Prep’ workshop.


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