I was struck again last week- when reading about the problems at Standard Chartered with the forced apology of its Chairman- that the language of ‘sorry’ is so important. As with all things in life, for something to have impact, it has to appear authentic. That authenticity is about both the sentiment behind it and the words used.
Time and again, you hear someone ‘issuing an apology’ and yet it sounds the opposite of an apology. Why? It often has to do with the words they are using. An apology is meant to be something personal. It is meant to convey a personal sense of regret and often asking for pardon, forgiveness etc.
Using words like ‘regret’ and ‘error’ rarely work as they appear too formal and out of the textbook- not personal enough. Another oft-used and oft-failed trick is adding hyperbole. “I apologise sincerely” or “with deep regret”. This merely highlights the formal word that is being used and so often it doesn’t hit the spot. It sounds like the politicians non-apology apology- and we know how sincere politicians can appear to be.
“I am sorry this happened”…..”I regret any offence caused” etc etc. What this really means is I am apologising but not really. I know I have to but I don’t mean it! People see through it right away. The passive voice does not work- it has to sound like the person saying the words not a third person or a robot!
The secret to an authentic apology is a) to get the words right and b) most importantly to mean it! On the words, it has to be personal. It has to sound like the person apologising is actually apologising. Like most things in life, keeping it simple is the key; “I am sorry” is a good place to start.