Monday, January 17, 2011

Apologizing in Writing

"You never get a second chance to make a good first impression." True, but the best of us will blow that chance on occasion. When that happens, better to try to redeem a bad impression than to slink away and leave it as the only impression you make.

A simple apology does much to make amends for a poor first impression--or a gaffe of any sort. And a written apology does even more: it not only proves you have the courage to admit your faults on the record, but it carries an innate dignity that minimizes the risks of the apology itself turning into an ugly scene. And written apologies can be edited before being delivered, particularly valuable if your mouth easily gets out of control!

Here are three principles to remember if you owe someone a written (or any) apology:

1. Be prompt. The longer you delay, the greater the chance of hard feelings evolving into a grudge. Procrastination also makes the apology grow ever more difficult. Don't waste time fretting over getting it grammatically perfect. (Do, however, write fairly formally, and do proofread it; you want it to be clear you found this worth some effort!)

2. Be humble and sincere. Explain extenuating circumstances or what you really meant only when it is vital to clear the air, and only as far as you can do so without getting defensive. Anything that sounds remotely like "it was really your fault" devalues the apology and could start a worse fight.

3. Be brief. Most people have difficulty not following "I'm sorry" with a lengthy "but..." or a paragraph of groveling. To the receiving party, this is always boring, embarrassing, annoying, or even infuriating. Sum up what you did wrong; say how sorry you are for the inconvenience/embarrassment/financial loss it caused the other person; offer to make amends (be as specific as you can, and always try to give back more than you damaged); and stop.

And take comfort that a sincere apology can have even better long-term impact than a standard good first impression!

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