The Art Of Being Sorry
February 11, 2015
February 11, 2015
I’ve noticed lately that both in written communications and every day conversation, the word “sorry” has become ubiquitous. If you pass someone in the street and get too close, do you mutter “sorry”? If I walk the dog, I find myself apologizing to everyone he sniffs as we pass.
In this era of constant communication – email, texting, streaming news and Twitter updates – it is easy to misspeak or just not think clearly enough before you speak or post. This leads to constant apologizing.
As this constant communication environment delivers scandals, missteps and poor judgment, public figures need to become more creative in their apologies in order to make them stand out and sound meaningful. It used to be acceptable to simply say, in a heartfelt way, “I am sorry that I said that. It wasn’t what I meant.” Or, “please forgive me. I used poor judgment.” Now apologies need to illustrate that you understand that you got it wrong the first time, as well as a description of how you’ll make it right.
When President Nixon resigned the presidency and apologized to the nation, he didn’t really appear that sorry. He regrets the bad things that happened, but not his intent or actions.
“I regret deeply any injuries that may have been done in the course of the events that led to this decision. I would say only that if some of my judgments were wrong, and some were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the Nation.”
I don’t consider this a real apology by today’s standards, but there wasn’t an Internet community out there waiting to tear it apart in 1974.
Recently, Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal had to apologize for embarrassing and racially charged comments that were revealed when hackers exposed company emails.
Pascal wrote: “The content of my emails to [producer] Scott [Rudin] were insensitive and inappropriate but are not an accurate reflection of who I am,” she said. “Although this was a private communication that was stolen, I accept full responsibility for what I wrote and apologize to everyone who was offended.”
While her apology detailed her transgressions and takes responsibility, she wants people to remember that these were private communications stolen and made public. If a tree makes racist comments in the forest, are they still racist if no one hears them?
Apologies are often meant to close an uncomfortable conversation. The goal is to get someone to say, “I accept your apology” and move on. In today’s world, we may apologize for everything, but the real test of an apology is whether it stops the negative conversation or prevents further discussion.
We learned that Amy Pascal is resigning from her post as co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures. Apparently her apology wasn’t accepted.