How To Say You’re Sorry

 CBS MoneyWatch posted an article on seven ways that apologies should be conducted in business.  Some make a lot of sense to me – others not so much.  For instance, the writer, Tom Searcy, suggests that we don’t apologize nearly enough in business situations.  He believes that apologies “take the energy out of conflicts,” which may be true, but there is a fine line between an expression of sympathy and a condescending “sorry you feel that way.”  Below I have outlined four prominent apologies.  Read through them and discuss.

Apology 1: Netflix Fail

In the fall of 2011, Netflix was in the news for all the wrong reasons. First, CEO Reed Hastings decided to split the business into two unwieldy entities, requiring customers to work harder at accessing their memberships and services.  Then he raised prices.  The move was met with huge negative backlash .  A million customers walked out the door.

Then, under pressure, Hastings caved.  Soon after, he issued a video apology.


Apology 2: Jetblue is Very Very Sorry

In February of 2007, an ice storm slammed the East Coast, severely disrupting air traffic.  JetBlue came under fire for its many customer service missteps, and particularly for not applying common sense in making their passengers more comfortable during a horrible situation (in one story, a girl urinated in her seat during a ground delay due to flight attendants’ strict enforcement of an FAA regulation requiring passengers to stay seated.)

Many consider this a model corporate apology:  Jetblue Apology

Apology 3:  Colgan Air Disaster.  Sorry/Not Sorry. 

This excerpt is from a letter written by Colgan Air executives after the airing of a Frontline special about Colgan Air #3407, which crashed in Buffalo in 2009, killing all on board.  In the final analysis, NTSB reported pilot error and management problems as cause of the crash.

What do you think of Colgan Air after reading this?: letter_colgan_air_safety

Apology 4: A Real Apology – And A Shot In the Arm for Penn State’s Battered Reputation.

Now read “Hey CEOs, THIS is the Right Way to Apologize,” written after Onward State Managing Editor Devon Edwards mistakenly announced Joe Paterno’s death via Twitter.

Sheryl Sandberg: Defending Yourself vs Taking Responsibility

All this talk of apologies leads me back to the words of Sheryl Sandberg.  She seems to advocate taking responsibility, even if the situation is not exactly our fault (the traffic didn’t cause me to be late; I was late because I failed to account for traffic).

Reality is far more gray.  Usually many factors come into play when things go wrong.  The stories that people hear and judge us by are not always the whole truth.

So under which circumstances should we take full responsibility and (publicly or privately) apologize?  And under which circumstances should we try to explain the “whole truth” and defend ourselves?






5 Things Steve Jobs Can Teach Us About Writing Emails

Just before the release of  Apple’s first IPad, James Murdoch of NewsCorp and Steve Jobs exchanged a series of emails negotiating an e-book deal.   Besides revealing some of Job’s renowned negotiating tactics,  the emails also demonstrate how Job’s simple, strong writing style helped him dominate the conversation.

Natashia Lekic explains, “Their email exchange offers insight into what to do — and what not to do — when writing business emails. Murdoch’s notes are a classic example of how most of us tend to write: long, with multiple ideas and no clear message. Jobs used simple tactics to dominate the correspondence.”

Read the article by Natashia Lekic.


The Best Lists

The best lists:

  • Are shorter lists.  Most people can only remember 5-9 items easily.  If you have 10 or more items in your list, divide the items into categories or topics.
  • Are parallel in grammatical structure.  Whether your items are single words (-hammer, -saw) or verb phrases (-preheat the oven, -melt the butter) or noun phrases (-improved decision making, -effective strategies) or even complete sentences, just make sure all the items in that list are phrased the same way.
  • Are introduced with a lead-in. Most lead-ins are grammatically complete clauses followed by a colon.

    All lists deserve a lead-in.

  • Are well-punctuated.   Rules for punctuating lists can vary (your organization may have a preferred style), but for the most part punctuate your lists like these examples.

    Example 1: For items written as phrases, use a lowercase letter at the start. Do not use a period or a comma at the end.

    Example 2: For items written as complete sentences, punctuate just like any other sentence.

    Example 3: Phrases and sentences?  Start each phrase with an uppercase letter and end it with a period. Begin the complete sentences with uppercase letters and end them with periods. Use italics and/or bold to emphasize the phrases.

  • Are aligned visually. In most lists, the second and subsequent lines, called turnovers, align under the first letter of the first line, highlighting the bullet or number to the left of the text. This hanging indentation helps the reader see and understand the organization of the passage.

The Curse of Knowledge

Many sensible strategies fail to drive action because executives formulate them in sweeping, general language.

The Curse of Knowledge


Visual from Communication Fundamentals with John Ullman.

In our last class period, we discussed the “Intent-Impact Gap,”  or the disconnect between what we want our audience to think, feel and do, and what they actually think feel and do.

We have experienced examples of this gap in our own communication, both professionally and personally.

Now, Chip and Dan Heath of the Harvard Business Review discuss the science behind the intent-impact gap.  A simple tapping exercise reveals a communication phenomenon, labeled the “Curse of Knowledge.” 

I would love to know your thoughts.  Please read and comment.

The Irresistible Power of Storytelling

People think it’s all about sex or humor or animals, but what we’ve found is that the underbelly of a great commercial is whether it tells a story or not.

Keith Quesenberry, researcher, Johns Hopkins Center for Leadership Education.

Want to sell a product?  Want to explain a complex idea?  Want your audience to actually remember what you said?  Consider using classic storytelling techniques.

These techniques are ancient – dating back to Aristotle – and include literary terms like exposition, complication, climax, reversal and denouement.  Simplified, great storytelling includes a likable main character, some sort of action or complication and a result or ending.

The best stories use concrete language and images, instead of abstract ideas.  They show, rather than tell.

In this article published by the Harvard Business Review, the science behind why people react so strongly to stories is explained, beginning with why Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” ad scored top marks in USA Today’s Ad Meter and Hulu’s Ad Zone as a fan favorite during the 2014 Super Bowl.

Other examples of storytelling techniques:

My Heart Attack Taught Me To Slow Down, by Bill Marriott. Marriott on the Move.

The following scene from The Blind Side:

Your Wishes Delivered: Driver for a Day.  UPS

Please read and comment.