Authors and entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write in their book Rework
that there’s never really a great way to say you’re sorry, but there are plenty of bad ways.
One of the worst is the non-apology apology – it sounds like an apology, but doesn’t actually accept any blame.
Here’s an example: “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”
For Fried and Heinemeier Hansson, there are 2 reasons why this non-apology apology is so bad:
1. “… any inconvenience …“
If customers depend on your service and they can’t use it, it’s not an inconvenience – it’s a crisis. An inconvenience is a long line at the grocery store. They’re not the same thing.
2. “… this may have caused …“
The word “may” implies that there might not be anything wrong.
It devalues the real problem that your customers are experiencing. If the issue doesn’t affect them, you wouldn’t need to write anything at all. But if it does affect them, there’s no need for the word “may.”
The details of a good apology will vary depending on the circumstances, but every good apology has the below qualities:
- It accepts responsibility – that the buck stops with you
- It doesn’t have a conditional if attached
- It seeks a way to make things right, and provides details about what you’re doing to prevent the issue from happening again
You can test how good an apology is by asking yourself: How would you feel about the apology if you were on the other end? If someone said those words to you, would you believe them?
But it’s worth remembering that even the best apology won’t rescue you if you haven’t earned people’s trust: “Everything you do before things go wrong matters far more than the actual words you use to apologize.”