Mind Your Media : The Basics of Issuing Public Apologies
And why so many fail miserably at it
There are more than a few basics we learn as children that prove quite useful in adulthood. Put things back where they belong. Don’t take things that don’t belong to you. Keep your hands to yourself. One of these that seems to be in desperate need of repeating lately is the basics of the simple apology.
For someone in the public eye, particularly in a leadership position, you’d think this skill might come with the territory. The evidence of late however suggests some reminders might be in order for those doing so in front of a microphone.
Take Rapper DaBaby’s recent apology for his comments aimed at singling out anyone attending his concert that might be on the verge of dying from AHIV/AIDS. After meeting immediate backlash, the Rapper first blamed social media for the uproar, saying “people want to demolish you before you even have the opportunity to grow, educate and learn from your mistakes.” Or consider the head of the Michigan Republican Party blaming the “increasingly vitriolic political environment” after he called the three highest ranking women leaders of his state “witches”. Predictably, neither “apology” went over well.
So what are the key elements to remember in an effective apology?
- Authenticity: You’ll notice in both examples and countless others, blame is shifted elsewhere. An “I’m sorry” can’t be coupled with a “but” and be effective. (side note, that includes the back-handed “to anyone offended” another qualifier that is used too often, as though there were still some doubt as to the offensiveness of the word or deed.)
- Recognition of harm: For an apology to be considered sincere, there has to be some acknowledgement of the harm to someone else, whether or not it was intentional. The person responsible has to show that they understand what they’ve done, not just that they’re bowing to pressure.
- Make it Right: What are you going to do, to the extent you can, to rectify the harm committed? As the offender, it’s your responsibility to not only ask for forgiveness, but regardless of whether it’s given, and right the situation if possible.
For those in leadership positions particularly, mastering the true public apology is essential. Reputations, careers and entire companies and organizations can suffer enormous harm after a crisis of confidence, no matter how long before the stumble spent building a solid reputation.
If apologizing for mistakes were easy, there wouldn’t be so many examples of public apologies gone awry. As the headlines on any given day will tell you, we seem to have decided even a poorly worded and delivered “I’m sorry” should be good enough. It isn’t and it never has been.
Do recognize first and foremost than any public figure or leader can find themselves in the position of needing to apologize and need to take responsibility for their words or actions, even on the part of others they lead. Whether for lack of humility or the simple inability to recognize harm, the landscape is littered with those who’ve destroyed years of hard-fought gains in public reputation by the lack of a meaningful apology. Don’t let the reputation you care about be one of them.