Imagine you make a mistake. A highly public, recorded-for-posterity mistake. A mistake that could change people's perceptions and tarnish your reputation forever.
Early this season Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm committed three throwing errors in the first few innings of a game against the Mets. Frustrating and aggravating enough for Bohm, whose personal standards as a professional athlete are extremely high.
But when Phillies fans gave him an ironic ovation after he fielded a ball cleanly, cameras picked up Bohm's reaction: As he walked past shortstop Didi Gregorius, he said, "I f-ing hate this place."
Was he referring to the "place" his earlier errors had put him in, or to the city of Philadelphia and its fans? Doesn't matter: Philadelphia fans, at least by reputation not particularly known for benevolence and understanding -- after all, they once booed Santa Claus -- could have turned on Bohm.
"You hate this place? You hate us? Fine. We'll hate you back."
But that's not what happened.
"What about this video that's surfaced? Have you heard about it, or seen it?" asked one of the reporters who crowded around Bohm's locker after the game.
(Kudus to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia for framing the question that way. The (jerk) move would have been to ask, "What do you have to say to all the Phillies fans who, because of that comment, think you hate them and their city?")
Here's how Bohm answered:
Yeah, I've heard. Look, emotions got the best of me. I said it. Do I mean it? No. It's a frustrating night for me, obviously. I made a few mistakes in the field.
Look, these people, these fans, they just want to win. I mean, you heard it. We come back, they're great. I'm sorry for them. I don't mean that. Emotions just got the best of me.
The reporter then asks if Bohm "actually loves this place."
Yeah. You know what? I do. Yeah.
Managing emotional behavior in the moment is not always easy, though. As Bariso also writes, Bohm's response to the ironic cheers is an example of an response to an amygdala hijack, a fight, flight, or freeze response to distress or threat.
When that happens, we may not realize what we've said or done until it's too late.
But we can control how we respond.
In Bohm's case, instead of pretending he didn't say it, or that his words were taken out of context, or reaching for a justification or rationalization, he owned it. "I said it." He explained why. "Emotions got the best of me." He was gracious to the fans. "They just want to win. We come back, they're great."
And he apologizes one more time. "I'm sorry for them. I don't mean that. Emotions just got the best of me."
Short, simple, and to the point.
The Fans' Response
Even so, Bohm wasn't sure how his apology would be received.
"Part of me didn't really remember what I said," Bohm said of the interview after the game. Part of me was like, I think it did it right."
So how did Phillies fan take Bohm's apology?
When Bohm entered the next night's game as a pinch hitter, he wasn't booed. He wasn't cheered ironically.
Phillies fans gave him a standing ovation.
We all make mistakes -- which means we all have things we need to apologize for: Words. Actions. Omissions. Failing to step in, to show support.
When that happens, say you're sorry.
But never follow an apology with a disclaimer like, "But I only got mad because they ..." or, "But I did think what they did was ..." or any other statement that shifts even the smallest amount of blame back onto other people.
Say you're sorry. Say why you're sorry. Take the blame, even if you weren't completely at fault.
Do that, and other people are more likely to start to forgive. Do that, and then you can start to focus not on what happened, but on what can happen next time.
Which, if you think about it, is the true goal of any apology: To make things better, both now and in the future.
Granted, you might not receive a standing ovation.
But you will instantly gain respect, and kick-start the process of rebuilding a damaged relationship.
Especially if your apology proves you care about that relationship.