When it comes to a crisis that demands an apology, the hackneyed responses that I have read, heard or seen in many such occasions, are often criticized and ridiculed. It is not difficult to see why.
Why? It is often because our egos and pride precede our apologies.
But in the event of a crisis, no amount of dancing round a circus of words will appease an angry mob, and will surely alienate customers, prospects, and public stakeholders.
Therefore, it boils down to the apology, straight and simple.
Dancing round the matter
Often, we have seen an apology that skirted around the issue, with many words that meant little to an angry crowd.
Let us look at some general and fictional apologies written in the same “tone” we have often experienced in the public space:
“We apologize that people were frustrated and inconvenienced at the recent incident, and we hope to do better next time. People are always our top priority and we remain committed to serving people.”
“While we appreciate the panic that people felt at this recent incident, we want to assure the people that there is nothing to worry about, and that everything is safe.”
“We regret that the topic/object was perceived negatively and apologize for any frustration people may have suffered. It was not our intention to cause this and we sincerely hope to prevent this from happening again.”
“This is something many of us do regularly in this ecosystem. We are sorry we did not communicate the whole episode clearly to you.”
None of these examples will truly appease a crowd grieved by an incident, and will come across as mere machinations, and not genuine apologies.
An apology done right
You may have seen an apology done well, in some Asian corporations when things went wrong. The CEO or President will step up the podium at a news conference, take a deep bow, admit solemnly all mistakes as the most senior executive, and often offered two outcomes:
- Resigning immediately with qualified replacements, or
- Fixing the situation and then resigning thereafter, to the tune of:
“I am sorry for all the grief and frustration our company has caused in this incident. As the most senior executive of the company, it is my responsibility and I am completely accountable for all the problems in this incident. For this, I accept all responsibility, and I will resign from my position pending a full investigation in this matter. I will accept any legal or criminal implications based on the outcome of this investigation, and we will cooperate fully with the authorities. We will also work out a reparation plan for those affected in this incident. Once again, I accept full responsibility for this, and seek your forgiveness.”
Yes, it takes great courage to admit one’s errors, even if we have not personally committed them. But as the top ranking executive, the perks and remuneration of such a position also comes with inherent responsibilities and risks. We cannot have the cake and eat it. When we are humble enough to accept such accountability, we are also saying we are courageous enough for such a position.
Great powers and great responsibility
A top position is not meant for anyone or everyone, but those who can live up to the high demands. And should we rise up to this level of commitment, we can command the respect of those who brave the journey with us, and those who put the trust in us, whether they are customers, employees, or other stakeholders.
The summit of a snowy mountain will always be lonely. Not everyone can climb the summit, and stay there.
Seamus Phan has 33 years of professional experience. Polymath Problem-Solver & Strategist – Leadership, Cybersecurity, Branding, Crisis, Scientist, Artist, Author, Aviation, and Theologian. Some articles are reproduced at McGallen & Bolden, where he is CTO and Head of Content. Connect on LinkedIn. ©1984-2020. All rights reserved.