Mea Culpa. I’m just saying there is a right and wrong way to apologise

Mea Culpa. I’m just saying there is a right and wrong way to apologise

Communication | Judette Coward-Puglisi

February 10, 2010


Whenever my husband gets me upset, I give him the silent treatment. 

I used to rage and yes, I admit, swear (okay, okay not that often) until I found out that it was useless wasting all that energy to create even more negative vibes when what I really wanted was for him to say, “I’m sorry.”  Until he did, things remained stagnant between us.  

But I found silence to be golden. He gets my unspoken messages. He reflects and expresses his mea cupla in clear terms.  I forgive and we move on. This shoe fits very nicely on my own foot too.

But what happens when it’s not your intimate partner that makes you angry? What happens if it  is your   CEO or a governement representative? How then  should he/she go about  rebuilding trust.

I think there is only one to do it. Boldly. Plainly. Loudly. Be assured  that any other way    will encourage public outcry and loss of respect. I certainly won’t bury the apology in the middle  of a   speech or  pass the buck, even if the buck deserves to be passed. However you look at it, if you do it any other way, your apology will look insincere, disingenuous.  

Take a page from Richard Edelman’s, CEO of one of the largest PR firms in the world  and whose work with Walmart scandalised the business and communications  world. About 3 years ago it was  discovered that Edelman’s  firm hired two professional bloggers posing as everyday Americans to travel cross country, visit Walmart stores and post  their positive impressions on a blog dedicated to their journey. This was a really bad case of spin messaging. What made this story so noteworthy was  the fact that Edelman (the firm)  enjoyed a really  strong reputation as thought leader when it came to transparency and honesty in PR.  

But here’s the apology Richard Edelman  issued”

I want to acknowledge our error in failing to be transparent about the identity of the two bloggers from the outset. This is 100% our responsibility and our error; not the client’s.

Let me reiterate our support for the WOMMA guidelines on transparency, which we helped to write. Our commitment is to openness and engagement because trust is not negotiable and we are working to be sure that commitment is delivered in all our programs.”

Now,  that’s an apology. 

It’s direct. It admits fault. It’s concise (no need to beat the fallen horse to revive it.) Most importantly it is future based, a flash forward to the lessons learned and the likelihood of the mistake  never occuring again.

Of course there is a way for politicians and CEOs to avoid apologising in the first place and it involves enlisting stakheolders  and defining  transparency before launching an initiative.

Success  in political life, business life and yes marriage is about relationships. And trust. It’s an obvious statement but it  is often overlooked. 


3 thoughts on “Mea Culpa. I’m just saying there is a right and wrong way to apologise

  1. Mind you, his Davos post and his EDELMAN TRUST BAROMETER is worth noting and reading, if only for the facts. 🙂

    He does get the reality that government and business are not particularly perceived as authentic, it seems (to me).

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