How to Make a Good (and Bad) Apology

SMU Dispute Resolution professor John Potter recently sat down with Justin Martin of KERA to discuss apologies and why are sometimes so difficult to make.

KERA News by Justin Martin

We’ve all made mistakes — it’s a part of being human. Apologizing for those mistakes is part of being human, too, but it’s not always easy.

We’ve seen an avalanche of apologies and pseudo-apologies made in the last few months — think Harvey Weinstein or Al Franken or, closer to home, Congressman Joe Barton.

SMU professor John Potter is an expert in dispute resolution and conflict management. He says to deliver an effective apology means considering what the person needs to hear rather than what you want to say.

“For most people when they apologize, they’re apologizing for themselves, saying they what want to say,” he says. “The key to an effective apology is saying what the person you’re apologizing to needs to hear — very different perspective.”

He says that disconnect can also lead to a bad, or ineffective, apology.

“We’re pretty sensitive to something when it doesn’t sound right and we just turn away from that person, when in fact, what that person really wants more than anything else is to be engaged, to be connected to the person they’re expressing regret to, so their relationship improves,” he says.

Potter says it’s easy to use an apology the wrong way and make things worse.

On how social media has changed the apology: “Social media changes everything when it comes to apology. Think of it this way: Imagine I write a book, it goes on a library shelf, and a hundred years from now, someone can find that book and read what I said. On the internet and in social media, that apology lasts forever and ever and ever, so if you don’t get the words in order correctly, if your words are not clear, if you’re ambiguous, then you have set yourself so far back you can’t recover. Clarity in a social media apology is paramount.”

On when you should make a face-to-face apology: “You should make a face-to-face apology when the relationship matters to you. If you’re my friend and we’ve been friends most of our lifetime, and I’ve done something harmful to you, this is not the time to send a text message. On the other hand, if we happen to work in the same building and I parked in your parking place and you’re mad at me, OK, a text message apology is just fine.”

On cultural differences in the apology: “There are cultural differences. Here is what I will normally will do in my own work: If I’m creating, writing, coaching someone on apology in a different culture, I’ll try and find an advocate in the culture to work with me, so I can go back and forth with that person to make sure the context is correct, make sure the tone is correct and that it’s more effective.”

How to recover from your own Oscars-worthy blunders

Dispute Resolution Professor John Potter offers tips on how to give an effective apology. 

Dallas Morning News by Leslie Barker Garcia

Few of us (and that’s being generous) will ever present an Academy Award for best picture. Even fewer will muddle the name on the top-secret card, as Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway did in Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony.

But we’ve all had plenty of mortifying moments we wish we could take back, or that make us wish we could slink out the door under the red (or shag; we don’t care) carpet. They’re part of life; they’re part of being human. We make mistakes that we can neither erase nor go back in time to do differently.

What we can do is apologize. But we need to do that correctly so we don’t find ourselves apologizing for the apology.

As an associate professor in dispute resolution and conflict management at Southern Methodist University, John Potter talks about apology a lot. So who better to turn to for insight on the apology factor in Sunday night’s show?

Continue reading How to recover from your own Oscars-worthy blunders