So Chris Brown finally issued a public apology last week for the infamous “Rihanna incident.” While it was long overdue, most people didn’t seem too happy with it, myself being one of them. Personally, I think he could have done a much better job and at the end of this article, I’m going to be sharing some psychologically proven tips on the best way to apologize to a co-worker. This advice will come in handy whenever you miss an important deadline or accidentally give your boss a black eye at the Christmas party.


But first off, I’d like to share my take on the Chris Brown apology. While I understand how important it is to choose your words carefully, he could have at least practiced his spiel a few times to eliminate the “reading off the teleprompter” feel and to inject some more emotion into the mix. I mean, it’s obvious the kid is no Daniel Day Lewis, but c’mon now.


I personally feel that an apology devoid of emotion is no apology at all and considering that it wasn’t exactly a live broadcast, they should have shot another take where he sounded a bit more remorseful. But maybe I’m just nitpicking here. What do you think? Do you accept his apology or do you feel that this was a weak attempt at self-promotion to boost album sales?


I will say that whoever crafted that apology for him did a good job with it. Here are the elements I liked:


1. Accepting full responsibility
2. Saying that he refuses to make excuses
3. Admitting that he’s ashamed of himself
4. Bringing up his past (i.e., being raised around domestic violence)
5. Promising that the incident will never happen again


One thing I would have changed was the part where he said, “I can only ask and pray that you forgive me. Please.” If I was him, I would have said something like, “I know that you may have a difficult time forgiving me, and I fully understand. I’m having a very hard time forgiving myself for what I’ve done, so I don’t feel right asking for your forgiveness. All I ask, is that you allow me that chance to prove to you how sorry I am. I promise that my future actions will speak louder than my words.”


I feel that this would have been a stronger way to finish up. But enough about what I think. Let’s have an expert weigh in on the “proper” way to apologize.


Psychologist Donald J. Lieberman knows that it can take more than a simple “I’m sorry” after a screw-up to set things right. In his book, “Get Anyone To Do Anything,” Lieberman suggests a few different strategies to gain forgiveness based on whether you’re guilty of a mis-deed (like forgetting to send out an important fax) or if you simply mis-spoke (referring to Tanya from HR as “the world’s biggest space cadet”).


When your intentions are good, but something happens to interfere with your well-meaning plans, you’re actually in good shape. Research suggests that any excuse which is due to circumstances beyond your control is usually more likely to be accepted than one you had control over, i.e., “I apologize for being late, but I left an hour early and I still got stuck in traffic. Apparently, there was a major accident on Route 80” (Lieberman, 2000).


Now what about those days where you’re just completely out of line? It’s not your fault that your receptionist’s fruitcake tastes like rotten eggs but the biohazard symbol you carved into it really hurt her feelings. So how should you go about making amends?  Leiberman suggests that you follow a four step process:


Step 1. You must accept full responsibility for your actions. Don’t shift the blame here. Be sure to be sincere and don’t forget to actually use the words “I’m sorry.”


Step 2. An important phase in the process is letting them know that you’re willing to accept any and all punishment for your actions (Liberman, 2000). Leiberman states that showing remorse gives the person back the one thing they lost: power. “I know I shouldn’t have desecrated your fruitcake. It was childish and immature and you have every right to be angry with me. But from now on, I recommended that you stick to playing with your Easy Bake Oven.”


Note: In extreme cases, it may help to suggest a harsh punishment for yourself; the harsher the better. Usually, the person will start to talk you out of it, because they feel that you went a bit overboard with the punishment. What’s interesting, is that the very act of them talking you out of it will minimize their negativity over the incident. Sneaky, but effective.


Step 3. You must explain how the situation surrounding the incident can never happen again. “If you can assure them that the combination of the events can never repeat itself, this will go a long way towards alleviating much of their anxiety” (Lieberman, 2000).


Also, now is the time to explain your actions. Lieberman suggests that the best way to do this is to root your behavior in fear, i.e., “I was afraid that if I didn’t warn the others, then someone might be poisoned.  Betty’s cheesecake killed four temps last year.”  Not only does alluding to fear demonstrate your vulnerability, but it also helps to restore the person’s sense of power.


Step 4. Finally, it’s important to let them know that nothing good came from your actions and you have nothing to show for it. Be sure to downplay any benefits that might have resulted from your behavior, i.e., “I thought it might be funny, but now everyone thinks I’m a royal douche. The next time someone brings in a crappy fruitcake, I’m just going to suck it up and eat it. I can always pull a Mary Kate in the bathroom.”


And finally, for accidental slip-of-the-tongues, Lieberman recommends this simple strategy:


If you offend someone directly and catch yourself, one thing that can help you avert disaster is quickly globalizing the comment, i.e., “You have so much air in your head, you belong in the Macy’s Day Parade!  Uhhh… along with everyone else in this damn office!”


Hopefully these tips will help keep you out of hot water. In the meantime, stay away from fruitcake at all costs.


P.S. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Chris Brown incident. Please post your comments below.


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Make it happen,

-Jay Cataldo


(photo credit: Brandon Evans – Wikimedia Commons)