As a communications professional, I believe that an apology is one of the most difficult forms of public speaking. I define the apology as an acknowledgment by the wrongdoer of misconduct that is offered to the offended party in exchange for reconciliation. Admitting to a transgression against another allows those involved to either grow stronger or drift apart; quite a life-altering exchange. A sincere apology necessitates empathy, which is often lacking during the initial misbehavior. This conundrum is what makes apologies so difficult to give and receive. Most recently, David Letterman’s admission that he slept with members of his staff is a very public example of an apology’s complex nature.
Since Letterman delivered the apology above, there have been mixed reviews from the press and public. Many believe his humor diminished the sincerity of his apology. Others feel that it was genuine, despite the jokes. Further complicating any interpretation was the audience’s nervous laughter at a man who they regularly don’t take seriously.
Employees at Late Night and Letterman’s wife have been hounded by the media, which forced a second request for forgiveness. To me, the second admission of guilt felt much more honest even though there were still plenty of jokes.
While researching this blog post, I happened upon an interesting user-submitted article on eHow entitled “How to Give an Apology.” I found its step-by-step methodology to a very intricate social construct fascinating. Here is the summary:
1. Don’t explain or justify why you offended the other person.
2. Apologize face to face.
3. If it is impossible to apologize in person, write a sincere letter.
4. Ask for forgiveness and give the situation time.
5. Try to treat others the way that you would want to be treated.
I think that there is a lot of truth in the article. I’m not quite sure that the apologizing process can be broken down so simplistically, but it touches on some valid points. What are your thought about David Letterman and the apology criteria?