our everyday life

How to Apologize with Humor

by Maura Banar

Everyone makes honest mistakes. Sometimes, however, an apology can feel awkward due to the people involved or the circumstances underlying the event. Using humor when making an apology can lighten what might be an otherwise heavy conversation. Humor can also reduce stress and anxiety that both parties may feel. When used effectively, humor can help you make a sincere apology.

Make lighthearted fun of yourself. A 2007 article in "Business Horizons" suggests aiming your target at yourself when communicating in a challenging situation. This reduces the other person's perception that you might use them as a source of humor. This approach can provide both you and the recipient of your apology with a level field on which you can both relax.

Stick to the subject at hand and rehearse your apology ahead of time. An apology isn't easy, and it may seem more expeditious to defer the focus to something else. This tactic isn't an apology. Instead, it deflects the onus from you and can reduce the impact of your apology. If you feel anxious or hesitant about making an apology, consider taking a practice run through it. Note areas where you feel comfortable interjecting a bit of humor. Be sure that the use of humor is timed appropriately and doesn't draw attention away from the main topic.

Use restraint in the amount of humor you use when making an apology. Humor can facilitate an apology, but too much can damage your credibility. Maintain brevity in the use of humor, with the majority of the apology focused on what has occurred. Pace your speech while apologizing and when interjecting humor. Speaking too quickly can convey discomfort, insincerity or feelings of obligation.

Pay attention to the body language of the recipient of your apology. Non-verbal communication speaks volumes, and subtle cues can let you know how your apology and use of humor are being received. If the recipient of your apology folds his arms at approximately the time you inject a touch of humor, it can be a sign that he feels defensive or that he feels that you are not being sincere. Adjust your approach to increase or decrease the amount of humor you use in your apology according to these cues.

Encourage the recipient of your apology to join the conversation by using humor. She may provide verbal cues that indicate her level of comfort with the conversation. If she participates and laughs, or responds with humor, your apology is likely being received in a positive way.

Don't use humor if you aren't sure it is appropriate. Although using humor may seem like a good idea, keep in mind that the apology is not for you. Consider the severity of the event for which you are apologizing and steer clear of the use of humor for egregious faux pas. Don't take a lack of laughter in response as an indication that your apology isn't received positively. The recipient of your apology may be struggling to process what you are saying.

About the Author

Maura Banar has been a professional writer since 2001 and is a psychotherapist. Her work has appeared in "Imagination, Cognition and Personality" and "Dreaming: The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams." Banar received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Buffalo State College and her Master of Arts in mental health counseling from Medaille College.

Photo Credits

  • Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images