How to Recover From Your Most Awkward Moments

The key to handling interactions with grace: anticipating the other person’s point of view (often before they know it themselves)

bouquet of flowers
Mark Hooper/Getty Images

How to: Apologize

Sorry, my mistake. It won’t happen again. Please forgive me. If such words come easily to you, you’re lucky. Most of us have to steel ourselves to apologize, sometimes because it feels as if we were fully justified in our offending behavior, other times because it is so humiliating to admit that we weren’t.

It turns out that the words you utter when apologizing are less important than the act of apologizing itself. Social psychologist Steven Scher of Eastern Illinois University has identified five main elements of apologies: 1) a simple expression of regret (“I’m sorry,” “I apologize,” or “Excuse me”); 2) an explanation or account of the cause that brought about the violation (“I forgot to call you the other day with the information”); 3) an expression of the speaker’s responsibility for the offense (“What I did was wrong”); 4) a promise of forbearance (“I promise nothing like this will happen again”); and 5) an offer of repair (“What can I do to make it up to you?”). Employing any of these strategies is better than using none, Scher has found, and the effects can be additive—the more components you include in the apology, the better. Perhaps most important, make it genuine: Insincere apologies can be worse than none at all, found psychologist Jeanne Zechmeister and colleagues at Chicago’s Loyola University.

Who Knew? Sexism of Sorry
Women do apologize more than men but not for the reasons you think, say social psychologists Karina Schumann and Michael Ross of the University of Waterloo, in Ontario. “Our findings suggest that men apologize less frequently than women not because their egos are more fragile but because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.”

Next: How to persuade others »

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.

Funny Jokes

Some people like to travel by train because 
it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of 
an airplane.

Dennis Miller

Funny Jokes

I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”

Kevin Nealon

Funny Jokes

“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” 
—Everyone following you on Instagram


Funny Jokes

A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.

Comedian Greg Davies

Funny Jokes

Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.


Funny Jokes

Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.


Funny Jokes

My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me 
everything you know.”


Funny Jokes

“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” 

@yoyoha (Josh Hara)

Funny Jokes

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Funny Jokes

Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?

A: A mechanic.