Here is a terrific interview by Bulldog Reporter’s Brian Pittman with Jennifer Thomas, and author and expert on apologies. I strongly recommend that everyone in crisis communication read this interview (and probably the book too).
The simple reason is that recovery from a crisis where you, the leaders or the organization has messed up is largely based on a quick, full and complete apology. This article makes it crystal clear why some apologies are effective and some not. But I can tell you the secret in two words: complete and sincere. Sincerity, hedging, limiting, dodging while trying to issue and apology simply doesn’t work. It’s like saying to your wife, “I’m sorry I said those things to you, but…” The “but” will get you every time.
The one thing this excellent article doesn’t deal with that almost must considered in apologies is speed. In my experience as many apologies have gone wrong for being too slow as for being incomplete or insincere. That is why it is critical to gather your top executives, talk about the things that can wrong, and prepare to issue a full, complete and sincere apology right away. That means getting the lawyers involved and hassling through those issues NOW and not in the crazy minutes and hours after something has gone terribly wrong. Because as they say, Now is Too Late.
I missed the big Seahawks-Raiders game because I was in LA, but I did manage to catch on replay the kick to the groin of Jeramy Stevens administered by Raider DE Tyler Brayton. My interest is not in the act or what may have provoked it, but in how he apologized. Here’s the take on it by the News Tribune.
Not sure what you think but this seemed an impressive performance by Mr. Brayton and some important lessons learned for companies, celebrities or others who may find themselves needing to publicly apologize. First, he offered no excuses. He accepted full responsibility. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry, but he made me do it…” Sure, he hinted there was provocation, but no one can say he didn’t take responsibility for his action.
What is more impressive is the reporter kept trying to get him to make that mistake. Look at the questions. “Were you provoked?” And when he didn’t fall for that, the reporter made another run at getting him to try and blame Stevens: “Did Stevens try to strike you first?”
The reporter tried other ways to get Brayton to be defensive, blame someone else, or diminish his apology.
The other thing that was impressive was talking about his grandparents at the game. This showed more than anything that he was personally and deeply embarrassed and sorry for what he did. Hey, the thought of that being the last time his grandparents see him play and that’s the way they remember him playing. Who couldn’t hurt for the guy?
I have said it here before but it bears repeating. People are amazingly willing to forgive and forget. But only when they are convinced that someone is really sorry. An honest apology without reservations, without the “yeah, but..” without excuses, goes a long, long way. And don’t expect reporters to make it easy on you to do that. Especially if the reporter is pulling for the other team.