It seems that not a week goes by without a high-profile apology issued from a company spokesperson, politician, public figure or organization. Many would agree that 2018 should be dubbed, "The year of the CEO apology tour." Not all apologies are created equal, of course. There are many different communication approaches used to win back trust. As another Inc.com columnist pointed out when citing National Geographic's recent apology, "By being brave enough to admit when we get it wrong, we send a message of our humility to our audience. People are increasingly receptive to this."

We all make mistakes. However, it is the quality of your apology that speaks volumes of your character and values. By the very nature of the task, expressing your remorse can be uncomfortable. A poorly delivered apology can make a difficult situation even more miserable, and your timing is also an important consideration. An apology received too quickly can come across as inauthentic.

Conversely, if your apology comes too late, it can add to further hurt, anger or frustration for the person or group you have offended. People want to be heard, acknowledged and respected. So take the time to mindfully plan what you will say and do the next time you find yourself in hot water. Here are four reliable steps that will help lead to a resolution, and hopefully restore confidence:  

1. Express your remorse.

Every apology should start with two powerful words: "I'm sorry," or "I apologize." For example, "I know how difficult this has been for you. I feel terrible, and I sincerely apologize." It is important to acknowledge the damaging impact that your words and actions may have had on another. Keep in mind that if your apology is immediately followed by a "however" or "but" (followed by blame or a lame excuse) you will only downgrade your apology and likely engender mistrust of your motives. We have all experienced an apology that didn't feel authentic. The person may have said the words "I'm sorry," and yet instinctively, you knew they didn't genuinely mean it. Apologize from the heart, or not at all.

2. Take responsibility for your actions.

Remaining accountable for your actions by recognizing the damaging effects of your words and behavior is an essential step in the apology process. For example, "I should not have said that" or "I appreciate you pointing that out to me -- it's my mistake." An effective apology names the offense explicitly. Own it. You need to be clear that you recognize the seriousness of the situation and the consequences of your lapse in good judgment.

3. Make amends.

What will you do differently going forward? Clearly outline how you plan to make things right and what actions you will take to commit to a plan to make amends, as quickly as possible. Depending on the situation, your plan may be challenging to implement -- so be realistic about timing. However, if you don't intend to change your mind -- or your behavior -- your apology will fall short, and you will further damage the relationship.

4. Promise that it won't happen again.

Confirm that you will make good on your promises. Your words and body language should be congruent with, "I will make sure that this does not happen again."

Published on: Sep 26, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.