Quickly, simply, and without expecting anything back.
I think it is really important to say sorry if you have let someone down. When we say sorry, we hope that forgiveness will follow – but sometimes consequences follow instead. That’s what I mean about “not expecting anything back” – you can’t assume that an apology is going to make everything right, but it is still the first thing that we owe each other when we’re in the wrong.
I think, too, that it is basic human kindness to say “I am sorry you’re hurting, or scared, or feel completely let down” if you haven’t been able to help someone, even if there is nothing else you could have done about it. That kind of sorry is not an admission of guilt; it is a compassionate response to another person’s sorrow or hardship.
It can be really hard to apologise in public, and I think some people fear that if they apologise once, they’ve admitted weakness or wrongness for all time. That’s not the case. Saying sorry when it’s needed – and accepting that forgiveness may not follow – is a strong and gracious thing to do, and a habit that anyone in a public role would do well to cultivate.