When is an apology not an apology? When it’s a non-apology

17th January 2022 by Mary Anderson

Blink and you’d have missed it…  Does anyone actually remember Boris Johnson apologising for the lockdown garden party?

“Mr Speaker, I want to apologise,” he said during Prime Minister’s Question Time.  Listen carefully and you can hear MPs shouting “for what?”.  And sure enough, he didn’t specify. 

This, according to The Spectator, was a non-apology; and they reckon for the Prime Minister, this is a particular skill, or at least one owned by his speech writer.

Having studied his response to being blamed for breaching the rules, the publication has come up with ways in which PR teams can avoid actually making an apology.

They say that a good apology must include six elements; expressing regret, explaining what went wrong, acknowledging responsibility, declaring repentance, offering repair and requesting forgiveness.

But for a truly insincere apology, according to the article, we can make it conditional, ie. I’m sorry if (I upset you).  This is acknowledged as the amateur non-apology. You can improve on this by being unclear what you’re apologising for, ie. sorry if (you were upset). 

This one is my favourite… The Spectator says Boris demonstrated the ‘If I have a fault, it’s that I’m too nice…’ when he said “with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside.”  Love it!  Now we all think he’s just a nice guy!

Mistakes were made’ is one that’s been used for decades according to the article.  It enables you to distance yourself from the mistake.  ‘Mistakes were made’ (by someone else).

There is another solution, of course.  And that is just to apologise. Make it quick, but make it sincere, promise to resolve the situation and close the discussion down.

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