Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust
Filled with examples from the news and my own personal experience, Effective Apology is a guide for leaders wishing to navigate the treacherous waters of apology in the modern world of instant communications, video, and social media.
The message of this book is that while mistakes are inevitable, a well-timed apology can defuse the resentment, heal the parties, reduce litigation, and restore the relationship to a new footing so it sometimes emerges stronger than it was before. Apology is not cost-free, but it’s more affordable than the alternative.
Effective Apology challenges us to think about the fundamental value of an apology as it explores in detail the key dimensions of an apology that heals and renews. The book offers advice on when to apologize, how to accept or reject an apology, ten apology dos and don’ts, and a quiz to test your Apology Quotient. With over 70 examples of the good, the bad, and the ineffective apology in action, no other book combines such a practical, how-to approach with a rich analysis of what it takes to make an apology work. More details on the Effective Apology blog
Why is Apology so Difficult?
I once wrote speeches for a CEO who told me, “I never apologize. I’m sorry, that’s just the kind of guy I am.”
This hapless CEO aside, apologies are serious business. New evidence demonstrates that the magic healing power of the two words “I’m sorry” can go a long way to mediating office disputes, avoiding litigation, and minimizing damage awards.
An authentic apology means one acknowledges that incorrect behavior caused injury, takes responsibility for the incorrect behavior, expresses remorse and vows not to repeat it. If practical, it also offers restitution for any injury caused by wrong behavior.
The Five Rs of Apology
An authentic apology has a number of elements. I call these elements the Five Rs of Apology:
First, apology offers recognition. The injured party needs to know that the offender understands specifically what he or she did wrong.
I recognize that my deceit has damaged our friendship and that my carelessness ruined your suede jacket.
Second, it offers responsibility. The offender must accept personal responsibility for the injury.
I accept total responsibility for ruining your jacket and, worse, lying about my responsibility.
Third, it offers remorse. Here there is no substitute for the magic words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” It’s probably wise to keep this part short and direct. It’s tempting to add words of explanation. Resist the impulse.
I am so sorry.
Fourth, it offers restitution. Whenever possible, the apology should try to make the injured party whole or, barring that, promising never to offend again. A good way to end this part of the apology is to ask, “What else can I do?”
I hope you accept this check for my carelessness. I wish I could as easily repair the damage to our friendship. What else can I do?
Fifth, it offers a promise not to repeat the offensive behavior.
A bad or late apology is worse than no apology at all. There is no substitute for the timely phrases, “I apologize” and “I am sorry.” Here are some more thoughts on apology.
What Others Are Saying about Effective Apology
Book Ends podcast on effective apology
Apologize to Gain Trust. Investors Business Daily
A Sorry Situation. Philadelphia Inquirer
Personal Branding 101. Enough with the Apologies: You’re Killing Your Brand
Bloomberg: CEOS say Sorry and Thanks for all The Dough
Times of India: It’s the Sorry Season
Blog: What, exactly, is a mistake?
Tamela Rich Blog: Effective Apology
Apology is the First Resort. Human Resources Executive
BKCommunique newsletter featuring Effective Apology
Did General Motors Really Apologize?
Wall Street’s Apology to Main Street
Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say in an Apology
A Simple Apology: No Such Thing
Apology Leadership in Public and Private
Bad Apology: Eight Ways to Screw up an Apology