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It seems not a day goes by without a public figure apologizing for some screw-up. Last week it was Toronto politician mumbling "I'm sorry" for his multiple affairs at a press conference, and then singer warbling an apology at a concert for offensive remarks made during a Playboy interview. We explain the art of saying sorry.

Transgression

You took credit for a colleague's work

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Apology

John Kador, author of Effective Apology, knew a woman who was wrongly credited for a successful project at her office but accepted a bonus for the work. He says she handled the situation expertly, first apologizing to the individual and then to all her co-workers in a staff meeting.

"She [understood]that in addition to hurting the individual victim, she also hurt the team," says the Winfield, Pa.-based author. "Our offences have multiple victims and we owe an individual, appropriate apology to all victims we have offended."

Business ethics expert Lauren Bloom, author of The Art of the Apology, says an important part is expressing appreciation for the person you've wronged: Commend them on their work and acknowledge that you appreciate their presence in your life.

"This is the piece people get shy about or think might sound a little insincere," says Ms. Bloom, who is based in Springfield, Va. "Better to say it and go over the top. ... This is what seals the deal emotionally."

John Kador, author of the Effective Apology, takes your questions Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET.



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Transgression

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You embarrassed a friend by posting a compromising photo on Facebook

Apology

If you've offended someone online, Mr. Kador recommends taking the conversation offline to make amends.

"Work it out in private instead of working it out on social networking" to avoid further humiliation, he says. "An apology is difficult enough when two people try to work it out. When there's an audience it's impossible."

Ms. Bloom says apologies for Facebook flubs should be twofold: start with a phone call to the victim, then follow up with a public act.

"You take the picture down and then, if it was bad enough, you post an apology on your wall," she says.

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Because forgiveness is a long process, Ms. Bloom says you shouldn't expect your friend to be fine immediately.

"A lot of times you have to circle back. Say, 'Hey, how are you doing?' Give them a chance to tell you off again."

Transgression

You cheated on your partner

Apology

Nick Smith, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of New Hampshire and author of I Was Wrong, says the recent torrent of sex-scandal-related apologies from politicians has skewed our understanding of apology and forgiveness.

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"If apologies signify something like moral transformation, that usually takes time," he says. "You've done something wrong and oftentimes you think it's right and then you're immediately supposed to do an about-face and go through this grave repentance."

He says true apologies are intricate moral conversations that go beyond the "I'm sorry" sound byte. It takes time to deliver one, and even more time for your victim to respond - especially for something as big as a confession of infidelity.

While Mr. Kador and Ms. Bloom say e-mail apologies should be avoided because they come off as insincere, Mr. Smith favours the written form because it gives the wronged more time to respond.

When you apologize in person, "it can almost seem rude not to forgive … very quickly," he says.

When you write out an apology, "it gives the person you offended a chance to look at, read, and analyze what you said."

And don't do this: Say, "I'm sorry if you were offended." It negates your apology.

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