Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy are co-authors of the book Sorry, Sorry, Sorry, The Case for Good Apologies, where they draw on a deep well of research in psychology, sociology, law, and medicine to explain why a good apology is hard to find and why it doesn’t have to be. They also have a website called SorryWatch, where they track bad apologies and occasionally good apologies as well.
In their book, Susan and Marjorie have identified the good, bad, and ugly ways we say I’m sorry for that thing I did or said or didn’t do or didn’t say.
We like to distinguish between corporate politician celebrity apologies that are made not to truly be apologetic but to salvage your brand. You know that bad stilted corporate apology. You know there’s also the sort of influencer celebrity Instagram notes apology which or you know in general like little video apology from a famous person where they don’t wear their makeup so you know they’re serious. They’re often holding a small fluffy dog. They always start with, “Hey guys, I just wanted to talk to you myself.” And then it comes into this litany of self-justification. Good apologies tend to make things vanish from the forefront of the public mind. One of the things that fascinated me doing research for this book, I came across the Zeigarnik effect, which suggests that you remember uncompleted actions better than completed actions.
The authors argue that apologies are essential for repairing relationships and restoring trust. They also provide a six-step process for giving a good apology.
A good apology puts the other person’s feelings front and center.
1. Say “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” Not “I wanted to apologize for”
or “I regret.” SAY THE WORDS. (We can talk about why those specific
formulations are the right ones later, but we bet most people can
2. Say what you’re sorry FOR. Name the thing. Not “the situation” or
3. Show you understand why it was bad/wrong/a cause of pain.
4. If you need to offer some explanation, BE CAREFUL; don’t let
explanation become excuse. (This is the hardest step for me, btw.)
5. Explain what you’re doing to ensure it never happens again.
6. Make reparations, if that’s possible.
6.5 = LISTEN. People want to be heard. Let them talk. Let them
discuss why they’re upset. It’s .5 because you don’t SAY or DO
anything except bear witness. (And indeed, you shouldn’t interject
when you’re letting them have their say.)
About the Sorrywatchers (from their website)
Susan is the author of Becoming a Tiger: How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild (HarperCollins) and co-author with Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson of When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals (Delacorte). A modest person, she seldom mentions that the latter book was an international bestseller.
Publications she’s written for include Discover, Guardian.co.uk, Outside, Parade, Salon, Smithsonian, and Wired. McCarthy wrote a piece for Salon on apologies (“How to Say You’re Sorry: A Refresher Course”) which has been lastingly popular, and which has encouraged her to think more about the matter. McCarthy writes about animals on the blog The Nature of the Beast (According to Susan McCarthy). This combines observations about animals, humor, and sometimes drawings. Take a look. If you don’t like it, too bad. She’s not sorry. Except for herself.
McCarthy lives in San Francisco. A carbon-based life form, she is a native of Earth. “I love your sunsets,” she reports.
Marjorie has written for many magazines and newspapers, including Tablet (where she was a columnist for a decade), The New York Times, Ms., Food & Wine, Wired, Self (where she was a contributing writer), Glamour (where she was a contributing editor), and Sassy (yes, that one), where she was at one time or other the senior writer, health editor, and books editor, and won several awards for health and social issues coverage. She’s the author of Mamaleh Knows Best; the co-author of Hungry, written with the model Crystal Renn; the author of The Field Guide to North American Males; a contributor to Here Lies My Heart: Essays on Why We Marry, Why We Don’t, and What We Find There (Beacon); and the co-author of Smart Sex (Simon & Schuster), a now-retro guide for teenagers. She’s also a former writer/producer at the Oxygen TV network, where, in a meeting with Oprah, she saw Oprah’s giant diamond earring fall out of her ear, get entangled in her sweater and dangle temptingly above the conference room floor. Ingall considered leaping for it, plucking it from the angora and fleeing to pay off her mortgage, an impulse for which she does not apologize. At the end of her rousing and mesmerizing pep talk, Oprah (who had not given any indication that she had noticed the fallen earring) coolly picked up the earring and placed it back in her ear. This is why she is Oprah.