Sometimes apologies are expressions of sympathy – and sometimes they are admissions of guilt. Sometimes apologies are absolutely necessary – and sometimes they should be avoided. So what do we do? Apologize or no? And if so, how? I have compiled a few examples of corporate and professional apologies. Some were effective; some made the situation worse.
You may want to begin by reading “7 Tips On How To Apologize In The Business World” posted on CBS MoneyWatch. Some of these tips 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.”
Let’s keep going. Below I have outlined four prominent apologies.
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?