After a decade of analyzing the internet’s worst apologies on their blog, SorryWatch, Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy have written the definitive book on how to apologize with Sorry, Sorry, Sorry: The Case for Good Apologies.
The message of Sorry, Sorry, Sorry is a simple one: Accept responsibility for your actions, listen to the grievances of those involved and try to offer recompense based on their needs. However, if following these steps were simple, good apologies would be fairly common, right? Yet they remain elusive. Humans are highly intelligent creatures, smart enough to know that it’s easier to shift blame, procrastinate and politic than to face the consequences of our misdeeds. In fact, most of the book is devoted to examining the ways in which people—from celebrities to politicians to children—often maneuver around the core of an issue and how this avoidance causes more harm than good.
For example, in Chapter 6, Ingall and McCarthy consider the ways that doctors apologize—or, more commonly, the ways they slyly avoid doing so. Ingall recounts the time she went to a doctor’s appointment and had to wait over three hours to be seen. Every time Ingall pursued the issue, both in person and through email correspondence afterward, the doctor and his staff would essentially remix a “that’s just how it is” excuse. She is not alone in this experience, and people who have experienced more serious mishaps than an inconvenient wait have received little more than a pitiless “We regret . . .” statement from a medical professional in response. On the other hand, Ingall also demonstrates the ways that a good apology can prevent many of the legal repercussions that motivate doctors to dodge apologies in the first place. It turns out that when you earnestly take responsibility for your actions, people tend to respect you more than when you avoid the problem.
Good apologies are becoming rarer as disingenuous sorrys become the norm of internet discourse, like a kind of form to fill out after breaking unwritten rules. To avoid falling into this trap in your private or public life, read Sorry, Sorry, Sorry. The writing style is distinctive, if sometimes taxing, with parenthetical statements making up entire paragraphs and more references than your average “Family Guy” episode. That said, Sorry, Sorry, Sorry remains a very well-researched, insightful and useful book.