Several times in the past, I have written blog posts on the power of an apology and the right way to do it.  (See, “It Ain’t Easy To Say “I’m Sorry”” and “On Apologies….Once  Again”). The other day, I was reading some other blog posts and came across one discussing the wrong way to apologize or the non-apology apology. Entitled “Master Class In Non-Apology Apologies”, it discusses some recent non-apologies in the news. It also led me to a Wikipedia article entitled “Non-Apology Apology” which succinctly discusses the topic.

Labeling it as a “fauxpology”, the Wikipedia article notes that it is often used in politics and pubic relations and is epitomized by a failure to express remorse. Thus, one might say, “I’m sorry you feel that way” which is a non-apology as it does not admit that the person did or said anything wrong and to the contrary, may imply that the offended person is hyper sensitive. (Id. at 1.)

Another example is to simply say that “mistakes were made”. Here, the speaker acknowledges that a situation was handled poorly but evades responsibility much less a direct admission of responsibility by using the passive voice. If the active voice is used instead, i.e. “I made mistakes”, again, the speaker is avoiding responsibility as a “mistake” does not imply “intent”. In either event, the speaker has issued a non-apology. (Id. at 2.)

Then there is the “ifapology”: “I apologize if I have offended anyone.” This has been used a lot in politics and by television personalities. (Id. at 2.)

This article cites another version: The speaker “wanted to acknowledge fault where such acknowledgment is appropriate.” (Id. at 3.)

Then there is the recent exchange in July 2020 between U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in which after Rep. Yoho described her  as a “fucking bitch”, he apologized for the “abrupt manner of the conversation” he had with her but denied using those words.(Id. at 3.)

There is also the “sarcastic apology”. It is a non-apology “…designed to enable one to “get what you want by seeming to express regret while actually accepting no blame,”… such as:

“Nobody is sorrier than me that the police officer had to spend his valuable time writing out a parking ticket on my car. Though from my personal standpoint I know for a certainty that the meter had not yet expired, please accept my expression of deep regret at this unfortunate incident.”” (Id. at 3.)

If one does decide to offer an “apology,” there are different situations that may necessitate issuing a (non apology) “apology”:

  • Tactical apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology that is rhetorical and strategic—and not necessarily heartfelt
  • Explanation apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology that is merely a gesture that is meant to counter an accusation of wrongdoing. In fact, it may be used to defend the actions of the accused
  • Formalistic apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology after being admonished to do so by an authority figure—who may also be the individual who suffered the wrongdoing
  • Happy ending apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing fully acknowledges responsibility for the wrongdoing and is genuinely remorseful. (Id. at 3.)

Examples of the above may include the next time you call customer service and the representative immediately “apologizes” for any difficulties you have had, or your luggage got lost by the airline, and again, an “apology” is immediately forthcoming. Whether such apologies will be successful depends on the degree of regret, or remorse being shown and what success, if any, does it bring. (Id. at 4.)

More importantly, an apology may be critical in such situations as it will defuse the emotions of the other and validate what the offended party is going through. (Id.)

In short, it will show empathy which is the greatest way to diffuse a tense situation. Just ask any crisis negotiator: