“Never say you’re sorry. It’s a sign of weakness.” This is rule #6 of Special Agent Gibbs, leader of the Navy Criminal Investigative Services team on the show, NCIS. It plays consistently on TV’s in the exercise areas at my gym.
I disagree. Good Mom’s teach kids to apologize. Adults with good manners apologize.
Some people apologize too much and others not enough. For business leaders, the good manners learned from parents are in competition with PR firms, lawyers, shareholder return and other realities of running a business.
Still, some do it well like Mary Barra GM CEO. Related to the ignition switch scandal she said, “sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially to the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry.”
Some do it horribly like Tony Hayward of BP. After the deepwater explosion in the Gulf of Mexico he said, “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”
The current hot situation requiring apology is United Airlines removal of Dr. Dao, a paying customer from a flight, so deadheading airline employees could fly. Exceedingly minor compared to the two above, yet it is on viral videotape distributed globally. It’s bad for the company and all associated with it. CEO Oscar Munoz fumbled his initial comments blaming the passenger. Subsequent comments improved but blaming the person harmed is a tough point from which to recover.
My favorite airline executive apology comes from Korean Air Chairman. His daughter Cho Hyun-ah, an executive at the airline, had a bit of a temper tantrum which delayed take-off because she was upset by how the flight attendant served her Macadamia nuts.
In a subsequent news conference, her father, the chairman, bowed to journalists. He said he regretted not raising his daughter better and begged forgiveness. “It’s my fault,” he said. “As chairman and father, I ask for the public’s generous forgiveness.”
If by intention your apology is simply PR or minimization of legal exposure, take the advice of those experts.
If you are moved by your sense of accountability and decency towards making a sincere apology focus on three things:
- Reflect on what occurred and why an apology is necessary.
- Empathize with those who are negatively impacted and harmed by what happened. What would it be like to be in their shoes?
- Sincerely conveyed in words aligned with expression, body language and ownership.
This is tough. Practice.
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.com.