!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Deborah Tannen on How to Apologize

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Deborah Tannen on How to Apologize

Among other things, yesterday's Congressional hearings on outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center raised the issue of how to apologize. In an article in today's Washington Post, Dana Millbank describes the contrasting approaches taken by Maj. Gen. George Weightman, the recently fired chief at Walter Reed, and Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, who headed Walter Reed between 2002 and 2004, when he became Army surgeon general.

Anyone reading the Millbank article can extract important do's and don'ts for apologizing, but to assist in boiling the lessons down to the basics, the Post provides a sidebar summarizing guidelines recommended by Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University who is noted for her expertise in interpersonal communications.

The Tannen guidelines are a bit drier than the Schlenker-Darby protocol outlined in my earlier post on this subject, but she makes the same key point, namely that a genuine apology both acknowledges fault and expresses sincere concern for the other person.

Tannen specifies four essential parts to an apology. You must:
  • admit fault

  • say you understand the effect your actions had on the other person

  • show that you are truly sorry

  • promise to fix the problem you caused and never to do it again
Aside from situations in which there is a legitimate legal or political concern associated with the first item, putting this approach to apologizing into practice is a habit any sincere person will exercise.


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