Roseanne Barr has been busy since her eponymous sitcom was canceled by ABC following a blatantly racist tweet from the comedian. Since her show was shutdown Barr has taken to Twitter to apologize not once, not twice, but three times.

The fact that she's taken so many whacks at asking for forgiveness is probably the first clue that she's not doing it right. But the real evidence that she clearly has absolutely no idea how to apologize effectively is her statements themselves. The first came soon after her original tweet. 

It was also clearly utter B.S. because not ten minutes later Barr was back on Twitter with another attempt at an apology.

This one seems a little more heartfelt, though its impact was undercut by the fact that in the intervening minutes, she was busy justifying her actions with some extremely dubious logic. While the following is technically true, it is also completely irrelevant.

You'd think that by now some PR flak would have corralled Barr's destructive impulses, but no, the worst is yet to come. Taking a third stab at it, she issued yet another apology via Buzzfeed's Kate Aurthur, saying, "I deeply regret my comments from late last night on Twitter. Above all, I want to apologize to Valerie Jarrett, as well as to ABC and the cast and crew of the Roseanne show. I am sorry for making a thoughtless joke that doesn't reflect my values."  

That sounds more like it, you might think. But, of course, Barr couldn't let any halfway decent apology stand. She had to add this gem, since deleted, blaming the whole thing on Ambien.

How Barr should have apologized

It's obvious this is a horrible way to handle a PR crisis. (So obvious, in fact that Ambien's maker, Sanofi, not known for its online wit, offered this hilarious clapback.)

But Barr's stream of terrible apologies is more than a slow-motion train wreck. By embodying pretty much the polar opposite of an effective apology, Barr also provided crystal clear guidance on what a successful apology would actually look like.

  • First, according to science, an effective apology avoids excuses. "When giving an apology, many people are tempted to explain their actions. Even if it's well intended, this approach is likely to come off sounding like an excuse and will only weaken your apology," my Inc.com colleague Lolly Daskal has cautioned. In other words, saying "Ambien made me do it," or any other excuse, completely undermines your message.

  • Second, it promises real change. Barr can't stand by her own initial vow to leave Twitter--or resist the urge to share irrelevant justifications. Does anyone really think she's learned a lesson and will change her ways? "Our concern about apologies is that talk is cheap," notes Roy Lewicki, a researcher who has studied effective apologies. "By saying, 'I'll fix what is wrong,' you're committing to take action to undo the damage."

  • Finally, a successful apology displays true empathy. "For apologies to be effective, they have to be focused on the other person's needs and feelings, not your own," explains psychologist Guy Winch. Barr's many apologies are all about herself.

If there's a silver lining here, it may be a lesson via negative example. If you ever find yourself needing to ask forgiveness in your personal or professional life, you could do a lot worse than aiming to do the exact opposite of everything Barr has just done.

Published on: May 31, 2018
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