And so apologized William Carlos Williams, presumably to his wife, Flossie, in his 1934 poem “This Is Just to Say.” My own apologies tend to be somewhat less elegant, and certainly less worthy of publication. In my defense, however, I don’t directly repurpose my apologies as content for The Atlantic, explaining to my wife before a large audience that although I have been an insensitive jerk for the millionth time, it was totally worth it.
Apologizing well, after all, is tricky. It requires personal strength, a good ear, and a fair bit of psychological sophistication, which is why so many apologies are unsuccessful. If you have something you need to apologize for—or if you would just like to be ready to deal with the fallout from your next screw-up—here is your primer on the art and science of contrition.