Several ways NOT to apologise

Everyone makes mistakes, including not-for-profits. But it is how you handle your apology that can set you above the pack. Scroll down for more tips and examples about how to say sorry, but first Our Community’s thinker-in-residence Chris Borthwick demonstrates how not to respond.

Chris Borthwick
Our Community's thinker in residence, Chris Borthwick

There are many kinds of apologies. Some even involve being sorry.

Others are:

  • The passive-aggressive apology
    If any hysterical little crybaby has been offended by my recent statement of the true facts of the 5G hoax, I apologise sincerely to all concerned
  • The system worked apology
    I apologise sincerely to all concerned for the club’s involvement in chattel slavery during the 1960s, but have to point out that our willingness to admit to past sins is greatly to our credit and shows our very real superiority over all the other clubs
  • The scapegoat apology
    The Dirtcheap Poisons Dumping Company is sincerely sorry that the 300,000 tons of ammonia stored in its East Sunshine facility exploded and blew a crater in the suburb, and stern action will be taken by the company against nightwatchman Ern Parsons (who was entirely responsible for every aspect of this accident) should any part of him be recovered
  • The dear dead days apology
    The Evangelical Orphanage Board acknowledges that attitudes to children have developed further over many generations in the direction of not flogging three-year-olds with birches and concedes that the attitudes of the distant past may require modification in our new litigious era, but asks the public to understand that attitudes were very different in 2016
  • The what’s the fuss apology
    The Council has apparently been criticised for accepting a no-tender bid from Mr. Whiteshoes for the sale of the sports oval, and if wanting to save ratepayers needless administrative expense counts as ‘corruption’ then we can only ‘apologise’.
  • The apology your lawyers drafted
    If it is in fact proved in court that I murdered seven hitchhikers, which is not conceded, I apologise sincerely to all concerned for the misunderstanding.

If you actually are sorry – and I know this sounds crazy – it would help if you included something that had a point.

  • Say “I was (or we were) wrong. You were right.”
  • Say “We’re working to make you whole, and to compensate you for what you suffered.”
  • Say “The people responsible will be penalised.”

Otherwise, shut your cakehole and cop the consequences.

More information

Help sheet: A quick and sometimes messy guide to apologising

The apology to refugees: David Manne at Communities in Control 2019

10 years on from Sorry Day and no closer to equality: Stan Grant at Communities in Control 2018

Deaf Can:Do (Royal South Australian Deaf Society): Open letter apology | Advocate’s rebuttal

Help sheet: What to do in a media crisis: don’t run, don’t hide

ICDA newsletter special edition: Crisis management

More help sheets: Communications for not-for-profits

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