I’m betting more has been written about apologies in the last three months than in the last three years. An overdue societal reckoning of pervasive sexual misconduct has helped to fuel this revved up release of regret.
With so many examples, one would expect that apology statements have grown more refined and delivered in more meaningful ways. Unfortunately, we all know little has changed and I’m not even addressing the many outright denials of wrongdoing that demand apologies.
One of the classic non-apology apologies is back in the news, with new talk about the authenticity of the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape leaked before last year’s presidential election. One of the remarks candidate Trump made was: “I apologize if anyone was offended.”
We’ve seen other forms of this statement over the years: If I offended you… If I hurt you… If I said something insulting…
It’s the “f” in “if” that is “f”ing up these apologies. People need to have the courage – to be accountable – and change the “If” to “I”.
And let’s not get cute with the language. We need to be declarative.
Glenn Thrush of The New York Times said, “I apologize to any woman who felt uncomfortable in my presence, and for any situation where I behaved inappropriately. Declarative, yes, but it’s still a non-apology. “Any woman”? “Any situation”?
Apologies need to adhere to the 6 As:
1. Acknowledging something has happened. If there’s no acceptance of responsibility, there’s no foundation on which to build a future relationship.
2. Having an Authentic expression of regret. Remorse must be heartfelt and real – something to which the audience can feel and connect.
3. Using Appropriate tone and language. The mood, tenor and words must fit both the person apologizing and the audience for which the apology is intended.
4. Choosing an Acceptable venue. Location determines who and how many will receive the message, and will help set the tone of the apology.
5. Acting in the right timeframe. A delay or hesitation could result in mounting suspicion and a missed opportunity to correct the situation.
6. Announcing next steps. Demonstrating how the offense won’t be repeated can be vital in rebuilding trust and reputation.
We’re seeing many other ways people are undermining their apologies, beyond what Harry Shearer has called the "ifpology." I have recounted many of these in other writings and lectures but here are two popular dodges that are popular now:
The “I Don’t Remember” Apology.
Geraldo Rivera: “Although I recall the time @BetteMidler has alluded to much differently than she, that does not change the fact that she has a right to speak out & demand an apology from me, for in the very least, publically embarrassing her all those years ago.”
Russell Simmons: “While her memory of that evening is very different than mine, it is now clear to me that her feelings of fear and intimidation are real."
Al Franken first told reporters: "I certainly don't remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann.” However, a later statement attempted to clarify the message: "The first thing I want to do is apologize… There's more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it's the only thing you care to hear, that's fine—is: I'm sorry.”
The “Yes, But...” Apology.
Charlie Rose: “I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate.”
Matt Lauer: "Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”
Mark Halperin: “Some of the allegations that have been made about me are untrue. But I realize this is a small point in the scheme of things.”
Benjamin Franklin said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” It’s still great advice.
This article also appears in Medium. I invite you to follow me on Twitter @pauloestreicher.