“I am sorry.”

Three simple words, yet they can be so hard to say, and so very powerful. In the case of The Late, Late Show host James Corden, the words were allegedly said, but later retracted.  According to NBC News, Corden called the allegations by restaurateur Keith McNally “silly”. 

An apology, if said properly, can be the first step in making amends, correcting wrongdoings, and gaining back trust. Whether it’s a spouse who cheated on his or her significant other, a business leader who let people down through indiscretions, or a leader who abused his position of power, we’ve seen time and time again the power of an apology.

As a psychotherapist and executive coach, I help clients who get into trouble – whether with their spouse or the public. There’s a right way to issue an apology, and of course, a wrong way. There are certain elements that should be part of a mea culpa, and there are things that should not be said. Above all, though, apologizing and then retracting only makes matters worse.

In light of the recent Keith McNally and James Corden fiasco, here are some tips on the right away to apologize:

1. Own it

Verbalize what you did wrong and do it in-person. This shows some level of culpability and awareness.  In the case of James Corden, if he did actually do what he is accused of, he simply should own it and say “I screwed up and was wrong”.

2. Don’t make excuses

Don’t try to explain away why you said or did something wrong.  If you cheated, don’t say, “I was drunk and that’s why it happened.” Instead, be direct and say what happened.

3. Keep it simple

Celebrities and public figures so often say too much and end up getting into more trouble. Their rant is usually an attempt to rationalize the behavior and that isn’t what the public needs at the moment. Celebrity or not, obfuscating your words will dilute your intended message.

4. Be specific

Clearly identify what it is you are apologizing for. Saying, “I am sorry that I was rude towards the restaurant staff” is clear and direct. This goes much further than saying, “I’m sorry that you were upset”.

5. Make it heartfelt

Speak from the heart and don’t be afraid to show genuine emotion. This is your first step in repentance. This will go a long way in humanizing you and showing sincerity, both of which are critical in winning back trust and respect.

6. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you hurt

What do you think that person experienced and felt emotionally? Was it hurt? Sadness? Anxiety? Fear? Try to understand what the person or group might be going through and identify it. In the case of Keith McNally’s staff, they might feel bullied by an entitled celebrity. Be empathetic. For example, “I understand how my comments may have hurt you and made you feel anxious and disrespected”.

7. Ask yourself: What could you have done differently?

Express how you could have handled the situation in a healthier way. So for James Corden, he might say, “I should have quietly and discreetly brought to the attention of the waitress my concern about how the eggs were prepared.”  

8. Take action.

Indicate what is next. What actions are you taking to try to improve things? For instance, Corden might say, “I will take some time to learn how to better learn to handle these situations and control my reactions.”

So next time you’re in a position to apologize, do it the right way even though it might be difficult. The gain far outweighs any anxiety you may have over saying, “I am sorry”.

For more tips on living a healthy and stress-free life, check out my book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.


  • Jonathan Alpert

    Psychotherapist, executive performance coach, and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. Twitter: @JonathanAlpert

    Jonathan Alpert is a psychotherapist, columnist, performance coach and author in Manhattan. As a psychotherapist, he has helped countless couples and individuals overcome a wide range of challenges and go on to achieve success. He discussed his results-oriented approach in his 2012 New York Times Opinion piece, “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already”, which continues to be debated and garner international attention. Alpert is frequently interviewed by major TV, print and digital media outlets and has appeared on the Today Show, CNN, FOX, and Good Morning America discussing current events, mental health, hard news stories, celebrities/politicians, as well as lifestyle and hot-button issues. He appears in the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary, Inside Job commenting on the financial crisis. With his unique insight into how people think and their motivations, Alpert helps clients develop and strengthen their brands. He has been a spokesperson for NutriBullet, Liberty Mutual insurance, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Jonathan’s 2012 book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days has been translated into six languages worldwide. Alpert continues to provide advice to the masses through his Inc.com, Huffington Post, and Thrive columns. @JonathanAlpert