A true apology is an art. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it–it is simply a statement of apology, said sincerely, such as “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, and I’m so sorry for that. I hope you can forgive me, and please know that I will think before I speak from now on.”
This, however, is NOT an apology: “Sorry, but you asked my opinion, and you know me–I don’t pull any punches. So if you didn’t want to hear the truth, you shouldn’t have asked.” (This was actually told to me by a former boss of mine, and thinking of it still pisses me off.)
Oh—there is so much wrong with that statement! Basically, it blames the person to which you’re addressing the apology, as though it’s their fault that their feelings were hurt. It’s a crap apology, and it isn’t worth the spit to say it. Too many times our apologies end up being passive-aggressive–“well, I’m sorry you didn’t see things my way.” That’s not what an apology is.
Years ago when I was a customer service phone rep for a school supply company, every other phone call I got was abusive. Once I got past total strangers yelling at me, what I began to hear were people who were frustrated and just wanted to be heard. No matter whose fault it was, they wanted to be heard and acknowledged. They first wanted to hear someone at the other end apologize for their trouble, and then help them fix the problem. They did not want to hear that their problem was their own fault.
Regarding customer service in general: sometimes the customer is NOT right. Sometimes they haven’t done the necessary work on their end to avoid the problem they had. However, it is still the role of the rep to first and foremost apologize for their trouble. It is astounding how just apologizing right off the bat can help diffuse the angriest of phone calls. From that point on (unless of course the customer is psychotic), steps can be taken to address and solve the issue.
Once I looked at customer service in that way, everything changed. Oh sure, there were plenty of aggravating and downright mean people who called, but mostly they just wanted someone to 1) listen, and 2) help.
It’s the same with an apology. The person being apologized to is already hurting, so why add more grief by offering a “sorry, BUT” useless apology? It accomplishes nothing but let that person know that you don’t care that you hurt them, and that somehow their hurt is their own fault. Not acceptable–ever.
As Thumper the rabbit, Bambi’s best friend once said, “If ya don’t have somethin’ nice to say, don’t say nuthin.”