Books and songs are written about apologies. We see them on TV and online, and read them in newspapers and magazines. So we should be pretty good at making them. But we're not.
has been written about apologies in the last several months than in the last
few years, fueled by an overdue societal reckoning of pervasive sexual
October, film producer Harvey Weinstein — whose decades-long sexual abuse of women
caused a chain reaction that is still expanding after The New York Times
broke the story — issued a tone-deaf, rambling apology
that USA TODAY
called the worst ever.
he did express remorse (“I so respect all women and regret what happened”), Weinstein’s
statement suggested a continuing narcissism. “My journey now will be to learn
about myself and conquer my demons,” he wrote.
attempt at an apology was awful, but I’ve seen other doozies, including one
from Food Network personality Paula Deen in 2013. After admitting to using a
racial slur, Deen appeared on the Today
show and declared, “I is what I is. And I’m not changing.”
then there was Mel Gibson. After a drunken, misogynistic and anti-Semitic rant
during a traffic stop in 2006, the actor apologized for the “vitriolic and
harmful words that I said to a law-enforcement officer the night I was arrested
on a DUI charge.” Gibson later added that he wanted to “discern the appropriate
path for healing.”
2012, 50 years after its sedative thalidomide was found to have caused birth
defects, the German pharmaceutical company Gruenenthal offered a public apology
that spurred outrage among the affected community and beyond. “We ask that you
regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us,” CEO
Harald Stock said.
Certainties in the midst of
make news of their own and can impose measurable costs on companies. In the
Weinstein case and many others, what should have been a step toward healing
only made the wound deeper. Good apologies, on the other hand, de-escalate a
bad situation and minimize its news value.
unclear why we haven’t seen improvement in how apologies are worded.
Impulsiveness, narcissism, lack of empathy and bad advice likely number among
the causes. But there are ways to develop and deliver an effective, meaningful
is a form of communication that can be studied, refined and measured.
the principles of issues and crisis communication will improve apologies. Indeed,
how you say “I’m sorry” may matter more than the transgression itself.
can determine the scope of the damage and how long it lasts. A perception of
indifference or a slow, insensitive response overwhelms any good intention.
apologizing, assess the situation. Speed
matters, but it’s important to think clearly before responding. Taking time for
this step has become more significant today, amid claims that a politically
correct culture over-apologizes for everything. While I disagree with Hollywood
legend John Wayne’s advice to “Never apologize, mister; it’s a sign of
weakness,” apologies can make
a mountain out of a mole hill or legitimize an adversary.
more often than not, though, a good apology is an appropriate step toward
repairing relationships and reputations. In addition to being the right thing
to do, apologizing helps you secure the moral high ground and mitigate problems
that would spiral otherwise.
Weinstein aside, other examples of ill-conceived and ill-timed apologies demonstrate
how people sometimes undermine themselves when trying to say they’re sorry. In
December, celebrity chef Mario Batali issued what appeared to be a sincere
apology after several women accused him of sexual misconduct.
then he posted a shorter, oddly conceived version online. Batali asked his fans,
family, friends and team — not his victims — for forgiveness. He then ended his
statement with a breakfast suggestion, as if a cinnamon-roll recipe would somehow
cure the pain he inflicted or cast an amnestic spell. Talk about poor taste!
admitting late last year that it was deliberately slowing down its older iPhone
models, Apple issued an apology that made news partly because it was such a
rare event for the popular tech giant.
The company said it took action because the older batteries couldn’t
keep up with newer power demands, and offered to let customers swap their
batteries for a discount. But critics accused Apple of compelling existing
customers to buy newer phones, spurring class-action lawsuits and calls for
shouldn’t be hedged, forced or require decoding. Other disasters-in-waiting include:
“If I offended you” apology (what actor/comedian Harry Shearer calls the “Ifpology”)
“Yes, but not all of it is true” apology
“I don’t remember,” or, “I have a different memory of the incident but I’m
still sorry” apology
“Actually, I was the victim” apology
“It wasn’t the real me,” or, “I was under the influence” apology
“I was taken out of context” apology
“Sorry I wasn’t politically correct” apology
deflections only shift the blame. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Never ruin an
apology with an excuse.”
audience is large and diverse, be prepared to give a wide range of responses
while sticking to a core message. Effective apologies should follow the 6 A’s model
introduced in the spring 2015 issue of The Strategist
what has happened. Without
accepting responsibility, there’s no foundation on which to build a
expressing regret. For the audience to feel it, remorse must be heartfelt and real.
and language. The mood, tenor and words must fit both the person apologizing
and the intended audience.
venue. Location determines who and how many will
receive the message, and helps set the tone of the apology.
in the right timeframe. Delaying
or hesitating can make suspicions mount and mean missing the opportunity to
correct the situation.
Explaining why the offense won’t be repeated helps rebuild trust and
set of elements that I call “forgiveness factors” influence an apology’s success
or failure. Supplementing the 6A’s are the 4R’s:
. While the severity of the
offense often matters less than the response, some offenses cross a line beyond
which recovery is possible.
. Your chance of regaining trust
is greater when the situation can be fixed quickly and to the victim’s
. Past behavior shows the
potential for future success.
. The longer and stronger a
relationship is, the more benefit of the doubt you’ll receive.
can make or break a relationship, career or business. A thoughtful, considered
approach is the place to start