When it’s time to apologize make sure you mean it.
Archie: All right, all right, I apologize.
Otto: You’re really sorry?
Archie: I’m really, really sorry, I apologize unreservedly.
Otto: You take it back?
Archie: I do, I offer a complete and utter retraction. The imputation was totally without basis in fact, and was in no way fair comment, and was motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused you, or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat any such slander at any time in the future.
Kevin Kline (Otto) wrenching an apology from John Cleese (Archie) by holding him outside a window upside down, in the 1988 film A Fish Called Wanda.
There comes a time in the lifecycle of every company, government agency, corporate executive, celebrity, athlete, official and 12-year-old, when the only rational option is to issue a sincere, heartfelt apology.
It happens to the best of us—we screw up. The fact is, here on Planet Earth things often go wrong. Your software goes kaflooey and shuts down your website. Your CEO is photographed canoodling with someone other than his or her spouse. Your oil wells leak. Your drugs sicken patients rather than cure them. You’ve lost client data, cost them money, or otherwise failed to live up to commitments to your customers, clients, employees, partners or fans. You’ve been thoughtless, or selfish, or irresponsible, or sloppy, or simply stupid. In one way or another, you have screwed up royally.
Time to apologize.
But apologies are not a form of communications to take lightly. In any corporate crisis, the ability to emotionally connect with the public through communications will be a key factor in keeping control of events and retaining trust. In short, when you need to apologize, you need to be sincere or it will show.
Of course, your lawyers will weigh in, and the balance between an apology and admitting liability will always be difficult to resolve. But bear in mind that the lawyer you need is one who will help you communicate openly and effectively with your stakeholders.
Now, let us be clear what an apology accomplishes—and what it does not. It is not a magical cure-all. It doesn’t negate inappropriate or inopportune behavior. It will not prevent lawsuits from being filed against you. It won’t necessarily save your job, or keep you out of the clink, or scrub your reputation clean. But a clear, specific, genuine apology can go a long way toward softening the public’s harsh indictment of your misdeeds. It can be the crucial first step in turning a crisis around.