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Books and songs are written about apologies. We see them on TV and online, and read them in newspapers and magazines. So we should be pretty good at making them. But we’re not.

More has been written about apologies in the last several months than in the last few years, fueled by an overdue societal reckoning of pervasive sexual misconduct.

Last October, film producer Harvey Weinstein — whose decades-long sexual abuse of women caused a chain reaction that is still expanding after The New York Times broke the story — issued a tone-deaf, rambling apology that USA TODAY called the worst ever.

While he did express remorse (“I so respect all women and regret what happened”), Weinstein’s statement suggested a continuing narcissism. “My journey now will be to learn about myself and conquer my demons,” he wrote.

Weinstein’s attempt at an apology was awful, but I’ve seen other doozies, including one from Food Network personality Paula Deen in 2013. After admitting to using a racial slur, Deen appeared on the Today show and declared, “I is what I is. And I’m not changing.”

And then there was Mel Gibson. After a drunken, misogynistic and anti-Semitic rant during a traffic stop in 2006, the actor apologized for the “vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law-enforcement officer the night I was arrested on a DUI charge.” Gibson later added that he wanted to “discern the appropriate path for healing.”

In 2012, 50 years after its sedative thalidomide was found to have caused birth defects, the German pharmaceutical company Gruenenthal offered a public apology that spurred outrage among the affected community and beyond. “We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us,” CEO Harald Stock said.

Certainties in the midst of confusion

Bad apologies make news of their own and can impose measurable costs on companies. In the Weinstein case and many others, what should have been a step toward healing only made the wound deeper. Good apologies, on the other hand, de-escalate a bad situation and minimize its news value.

It’s unclear why we haven’t seen improvement in how apologies are worded. Impulsiveness, narcissism, lack of empathy and bad advice likely number among the causes. But there are ways to develop and deliver an effective, meaningful apology.

Apology is a form of communication that can be studied, refined and measured.

Applying the principles of issues and crisis communication will improve apologies. Indeed, how you say “I’m sorry” may matter more than the transgression itself.

Responses can determine the scope of the damage and how long it lasts. A perception of indifference or a slow, insensitive response overwhelms any good intention.

How to apologize

Before apologizing, assess the situation. Speed matters, but it’s important to think clearly before responding. Taking time for this step has become more significant today, amid claims that a politically correct culture over-apologizes for everything. While I disagree with Hollywood legend John Wayne’s advice to “Never apologize, mister; it’s a sign of weakness,” apologies can make a mountain out of a mole hill or legitimize an adversary.

Far more often than not, though, a good apology is an appropriate step toward repairing relationships and reputations. In addition to being the right thing to do, apologizing helps you secure the moral high ground and mitigate problems that would spiral otherwise.

Harvey Weinstein aside, other examples of ill-conceived and ill-timed apologies demonstrate how people sometimes undermine themselves when trying to say they’re sorry. In December, celebrity chef Mario Batali issued what appeared to be a sincere apology after several women accused him of sexual misconduct.

But then he posted a shorter, oddly conceived version online. Batali asked his fans, family, friends and team — not his victims — for forgiveness. He then ended his statement with a breakfast suggestion, as if a cinnamon-roll recipe would somehow cure the pain he inflicted or cast an amnestic spell. Talk about poor taste!

After admitting late last year that it was deliberately slowing down its older iPhone models, Apple issued an apology that made news partly because it was such a rare event for the popular tech giant. The company said it took action because the older batteries couldn’t keep up with newer power demands, and offered to let customers swap their batteries for a discount. But critics accused Apple of compelling existing customers to buy newer phones, spurring class-action lawsuits and calls for congressional investigations.

Apologies shouldn’t be hedged, forced or require decoding. Other disasters-in-waiting include:

· The “If I offended you” apology (what actor/comedian Harry Shearer calls the “Ifpology”)

· The “Yes, but not all of it is true” apology

· The “I don’t remember,” or, “I have a different memory of the incident but I’m still sorry” apology

· The “Actually, I was the victim” apology

· The “It wasn’t the real me,” or, “I was under the influence” apology

· The “I was taken out of context” apology

· The “Sorry I wasn’t politically correct” apology

Such deflections only shift the blame. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

Six A’s of apologies

When your audience is large and diverse, be prepared to give a wide range of responses while sticking to a core message. Effective apologies should follow the 6 A’s model introduced in the spring 2015 issue of The Strategist:

Acknowledge what has happened. Without accepting responsibility, there’s no foundation on which to build a relationship.

Be Authentic in expressing regret. For the audience to feel it, remorse must be heartfelt and real.

Use Appropriate tone and language. The mood, tenor and words must fit both the person apologizing and the intended audience.

Choose an Acceptable venue. Location determines who and how many will receive the message, and helps set the tone of the apology.

Act in the right timeframe. Delaying or hesitating can make suspicions mount and mean missing the opportunity to correct the situation.

Announce next steps. Explaining why the offense won’t be repeated helps rebuild trust and reputation.

Another set of elements that I call “forgiveness factors” influence an apology’s success or failure. Supplementing the 6A’s are the 4R’s:

Ruthlessness. While the severity of the offense often matters less than the response, some offenses cross a line beyond which recovery is possible.

Reversibility. Your chance of regaining trust is greater when the situation can be fixed quickly and to the victim’s satisfaction.

Reputation. Past behavior shows the potential for future success.

Relationship. The longer and stronger a relationship is, the more benefit of the doubt you’ll receive.

Apologies can make or break a relationship, career or business. A thoughtful, considered approach is the place to start.