Making Amends – how to Apologise Effectively

We all make mistakes. In politics it has become all too easy to cause offence. Apologising is difficult but it is often necessary and it needs to be done swiftly and professionally.


Unfortunately taking offence is now often used as a vehicle to raise issues. A leading campaigner once told me that if he could get the name of a celebrity or a politician into a story it was much more likely to get media attention. In newspapers and broadcast studios Conflict Sells.

So an individual claiming to take offence may not be offended at all. They may be quite pleased to have the opportunity to promote their demands or products, albeit at another human being’s expense.

In a situation like this you may not need to apologise at all. It may be best just to keep quiet until the story burns itself out. Responding will only create another round of bad publicity.


A recent tactic, pioneered by Tony Blair and copied by many politicians, is to apologise for things that are historical or express shame for what somebody else has done.

That is not a real apology.

It’s actually a devious way to criticise others and distance yourself from their actions.

Real apologies concern your own faults, not other peoples’.


Political apologies are often couched in the ‘Sorry You took offence at what I said’ style.

This is an Empty Apology. It is Victim Blaming and is so worthless that you might as well just keep quiet.


Apologising is difficult but there are often good reasons to bite the bullet.

First, you may actually be wrong. When you are in a hole you need to put away the shovel.

Second, you may need to work with the person you offended in future. You might need their cooperation or even their votes in a tight contest. The sooner you start to build bridges, the better.

Third, you may need to avoid legal action. An unpleasant feature of modern politics is the speed with which some people reach for their lawyer. If you get to court and are found to be in the wrong it will be expensive and humiliating. If you are vindicated in court it can still be expensive and humiliating. My advice is to avoid getting dragged into the legal quagmire.

So what does a Genuine Apology look like? It needs to contain two elements – genuine contrition and concrete steps to make amends.


This requires an understanding of why the other party has been wronged. You might have to read up about them and their circumstances so you can see the issue from their point of view.

Equipped with this knowledge, you should produce a statement that demonstrates and understanding of and empathy for their situation. This does not mean that you have to execute a U turn and agree with them however you do need to recognise and acknowledge their experiences.


You also need to take some concrete steps to show that the apology is heartfelt. At it’s simplest, this might mean meeting with the other party and hearing their story at first hand. You may need to visit somewhere with them or even become an ally if they have a convincing case.

Famously, Boris Johnson once travelled to Liverpool to deliver a personal apology and meet people after publishing some disparaging remarks about the city. The episode attracted a lot of publicity.

However as he was required to do this by The Party Leader, the apology lacked authenticity. He was the politician who took the credit and Boris just got the grief. Apologies should be done on your own terms whenever possible, not as a result of somebody else’s orders.

Genuine Apologies are sometimes necessary. Everyone makes mistakes so a degree of public humility does not go amiss if the situation is handled swiftly and with sensitivity.

And everyone needs help at some time so contact me for one to one advice.

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