GRAD 5214 – How to Apologize Successfully after Making a Hurtful Comment


Have you ever been caught making an offensive comment towards a person or a group? You are not that type, right? Right. In fact, those people who make offensive comments offend you and you righteously criticism them.

That is what we all like to believe about ourselves. But if we are willing to admit, at least to ourselves, we are all like those people. I think we all have that humanness, or call it an imperfection if you like, in us.

Part of what I think is scary is for all of us is that we don’t know what to do if we were to find ourselves in that situation. Don’t despair. There is a powerful tool at our disposal: sincere apology. Please don’t cry; don’t say “if I offended you”; don’t mention your friends who belong to the offended group; and even worse, don’t deny!

I like to share a story of a young comedian by the name of Quaishawn Stewart. I heard it  on NPR’s Freakonomics one afternoon about 10 days ago or so. Steward made an insensitive and cruel joke about a crying young Hassidic Jewish boy’s haircut in a video he recorded and uploaded to Facebook. “I’d be crying if I looked like that, too, bro.” He said to the boy in the video. “That’s f**ked up what they be doing to you.”And then, according to the Freaknomics host, Steward posted the following: “Had to really let my son know how I felt about the whole Jewish haircut. Pray for the lil homie.”

The young man found himself in hot waters. His comments were condemned as bullying and anti-Sematic. But Steward did something most people do not do. He sincerely apologized. He recorded the apology in a video and posted it on Twitter. It was received very positively. It then made him famous.

Beyond reporting this heart-warming story, the NPR program deconstructed what makes for successful apologies.

  • Sincerity
  • Focusing on the victim
  • Less talk about self
  • Making the beginning and ending impactful (remember to focus on victim)

It also gave tips on what not to do when apologizing:

  • Talking about self
  • Trying to give context and motivation

If you ever make an offensive, hurtful, inappropriate comment, just apologize sincerely. That is the only way to redeem yourself.

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