Etiquette Questions, Answered: Tricky Conversations
How Can I Apologize for Hurtful Gossip?
Q. Recently a friend and I shared lighthearted jokes about another couple. To my shock, my friend recounted this conversation
to the couple in question, who are now furious and won’t speak to me. How do I make up with them? And what do I say to the
person who betrayed the confidence?
Name withheld by request
A. This is a real mess. You gossiped about another couple with the sort of “friend” who would run straight to them. And to make matters worse, it sounds as if she hung only you out to dry. Promise me that you won’t repeat this mistake. Make no “lighthearted jokes” at others’ expense with anyone besides your dearest friend or your partner, ideally in the privacy of your own home and never, ever via e-mail. As for the tattletale, it’s time to reevaluate your relationship. Is this really the kind of friend you want? Have a heart-to-heart with her and ask for details about how you ended up getting incriminated.
On to the bigger problem. The couple now feel that they can’t trust you. And they have a point. If you want to change their minds, you will need to show them that you are a well-meaning person who faces up to her mistakes and sincerely apologizes for them. Phone or, better yet, go over to their house and say, “I’m so sorry. I think the world of you, and I screwed up here. Please forgive me.”
You may get lucky and end up back in their good graces. But if their response is to ask how you could have said unflattering things in the first place, answer, “I’m not sure how my comments were described to you, but I meant them affectionately. I’m fond of you, and it makes me sick to think I hurt your feelings.”
If this doesn’t work, enlist the aid of your (ahem) chatty pal and ask her to contact the offended party and tell them she misrepresented the situation. If she is a genuine friend, she should feel chastened enough to follow through.