All of us have received an insincere apology, one we doubted was authentic. Here are some thoughts on apologies. How to give a good one, how to tell a bad one.

Seven-point apology sincerity scale:

1. The heart-felt apology: Completely authentic, given with full heart and pure motive, demonstrating both understanding that pain was inflicted and regret and remorse for having done so.

2. The strategic apology: “Honey, I’m sorry.” The desire for peace and harmony is sincere, the regret that there was pain is real but not necessarily the understanding of the offense or agreement that one is at fault or has done wrong. Can be useful with small issues, slights, oversights. But can lead to major emotional bank account withdrawals if over-used.

3. The contingent apology: “I’m sorry if I offended you.” The effectiveness of this apology varies greatly depending on the tone of delivery. Can be helpful if one genuinely cares about the person or relationship and is truly attempting to achieve peace, reach an accord. Even the best of friends occasionally agree to disagree agreeably.

4. The too frequent repeat apology: “I’m sorry I’m late again.” Life is about cooperation, showing consideration and empathy for others. Repeated apologies with no change in behavior speak volumes about character.

5. The too-little, too-late apology: Delivered so long after the event to make its sincerity suspect.

6. The defensive apology: “I’m sorry, but…” In essence, this apology is given and then instantly retracted via an explanation or justification of one’s actions or behavior. Ineffective at best, frequently backfires, comes across as insincere. Absent some unique, Pulitzer-winning explanation, this apology is not recommended.

7. The bully apology: “Sorry to dump this on you at 5 o’clock but I need this back by 9 tomorrow morning.” Theoretically intended to take the sting out of an unfortunate event, the bully apology’s glaring lack of sincerity only adds insult to injury. Frequently used as a Band-Aid for bad behavior or to forestall a compliant or manipulate the recipient into compliance via misuse and abuse of social norms. By faking civility the bully apologist hopes to forestall hostility.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2010, p. D1, “I’m very, very, very sorry… Really?” by Elizabeth Bernstein

Closing quotes:

“At some point you can no longer talk your way out of what you have behaved yourself into.” — Stephen R. Covey

“Actions talk louder than words. An apology with no change in behavior is naught but a lie, a shallow attempt at deceit.”