How to Apologize (and Be Forgiven)

After an internet firestorm, E! News host Giuliana Rancic apologized to actress Zendaya Coleman for her "patchouli...or weed" comment. Was her apology effective? The Public Speaker explains the essential elements of a sincere apology.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #286

1.   A clear "I’m sorry" statement.

Giuliana: I want to apologize for a comment that I made on last night’s Fashion Police about Zendaya’s hair.

Gym owner: I'm sorry Tyrell totally screwed up and overslept this morning.  

2.   An expression of regret for what happened. 

Giuliana: I understand that something I said last night did cross the line...I didn’t intend to hurt anybody.

Gym owner: I'm sorry he wasted your time especially on such a cold morning.

3. An acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated.

Giuliana: But I’ve learned that it is not my intent that matters, it’s the result.

Gym owner: Once again, I am sorry for the screw up...it should have never happened.  

4. An empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of our actions on the other person.

Giuliana: And the result is people are offended, including Zendaya, and that is not OK.

Gym owner: You must have been dissapointed by not being able to work out, especially since you got up so early. 

5. A request for forgiveness.

Giuliana: Therefore, I want to say to Zendaya and anyone else out there that I have hurt, that I am so, so sincerely sorry   

Gym owner: To make up for the wasted time, I'd like to schedule a 1-on-1 training session at your convenience.  

Some experts say that a sincere apology also requires a “What I learned” statement.. In Rancic's case, she did talk about lesons learned. She said:

"...This incident has taught me to be a lot more aware of clichés and stereotypes, how much damage they can do and that I am responsible, as we all are, to not perpetuate them further.’

It's the last part of her apology that I have a quibble with.  She never really outright requests forgiveness, altough she does say what she learned.  When I spoke with Dr. Guy Winch recently, he said that we shouldn’t just apologize for what we did, but also for what our actions did to the other person. I don't think Rancic's apology adequately addressed how she made Zendaya and others feel.

Finally, although it's not one of Dr. Winch's steps of an apology, I always suggest that it is important to ask the offended party how you can make it up to them.  Specifically in a client customer service situation, I think it's critical that the final step of an apolgoy is "How can I make this up to you?"  or "How about I offer you X as my apology?  Let me know if you think of something else I might do."  

In my opinion the gym owner did the right thing by offering me the 1-on-1 training.  I think Rancic still needed to ask Zendaya how she could make up for her mistake. 

If you're interested in this topic, I invite you to listen to my full interivew with Dr. Winch, Emotional First Aid, on my Smart Talk podcast. 

This is Lisa B. Marshall, Helping you maximize sales, manage perceptions, and enhance leadership through keynotes, workshops, books, and online courses. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

If you want even more success in your life, I invite you to read my latest book, Smart Talk.

I'm Sorry image courtesy of Shutterstock. Giuliana Rancic image courtesy of Featureflash/Shutterstock.



About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.