If You Plan To Apologize, Do It Fully Or Don’t Do It At All
It’s no longer as rare as it once was to hear our bosses apologize. It appears that, at least in the business world, we’re learning from decades of research that well-delivered apologies can be effective in expressing empathy, reducing upset and getting back to work.
But, it’s still far too common for employees to be at the receiving end of a “non-apology” apology. This is an apology that feels disingenuous and insincere for the receiver, and which is often built around what I call “weasel words,” such as, “I’m sorry if you were offended,” “I’m sorry that you were offended,” “I’m sorry, but…” and the classic, “I didn’t intend to cause offense.” The fact is, non-apology apologies are significant contributors to losing respect and trust in our bosses.
A recent example of a public non-apology apology was issued back in February by Tim Sloan, former CEO of Wells Fargo (a company that most reasonable observers will agree has had a lot to apologize for over the past few years.) Sloan was apologizing for a service outage that kept account holders from accessing their funds and using their credit cards for nearly 24 hours, something he called an “inconvenience” to both customers and employees.
“Recovery from these issues was not as rapid as we or our customers would have expected,” Sloan continued. Unfortunately, by paraphrasing another frequently used set of weasel words, “we missed the mark,” he’s rendering his non-apology apology even less effective.
Here’s the problem: Most people, when receiving a non-apology apology, will react negatively and conclude that the person apologizing has only made the situation worse. Their thinking is, “It would have been better if they hadn’t apologized at all.”
Post written by Gregg Ward for the Forbes Coaches Council.