Communication Matters - our blog on trends and events


Regrets Only.

It’s the sniffle season.

Sorry, I should explain.

Apologies are bursting out all over.  Actually they have been for some time.

But here are some of the most notable apologies from recent weeks.

  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologizes to football fans for having to endure replacement officials until a controversial call led to a new pact between the league and the regular officials.
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook apologizes to customers for the failure of the new Apple Maps app, an effort to replace Google Maps in the newly introduced iPhone 5.
  • British politician Nick Clegg apologizes after branding opponents of gay marriage as “bigots,” saying the comments were only an “early draft” for remarks that had not yet been published.

And these are just the latest. Add from recent years Jeff Bezos, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alex Rodriguez, Silvio Berlusconi, Reed Hastings, Jeff Neeleman and more.

Don’t recognize all these names? Well, they’re executives, politicians, athletes. But just Google them and what you’ll find are … their apologies for their various transgressions.

Obviously apologies are important.  Are they more important now in this 24/7 news cycle, where someone is always watching and always willing to discuss your problems? No.

Even in those situations, swift action in response to a problem does not necessarily start or end with an apology. But people often make that mistake, thinking that an apology will make at least the unwanted attention disappear if not the problem itself. It won’t.

Apologies are only important if they’re really needed. But it seems we are awash in apologies. One result of it always being sniffle season is that everyone now serves as judge and jury on apologies.

Look at Tim Cook. Some people think his apology worked well for Apple, some people think it did not. But invariably people who comment on the matter compare him to Steve Jobs.

Interestingly, Cook gets high marks for the apology – because people think Jobs would never have admitted responsibility.

But the point of course is that people everywhere are grading his apology.

Apologies now are regularly and immediately dissected with commentary on what was done right, what was done wrong, whether it will end the crisis, whether it will worsen the crisis, and you get the idea.

So what does this mean for you?

First, if you are a leader and something has gone wrong on your watch, then you need to understand that your response is not about saying you’re sorry. It’s about being sorry.

And that means doing the right thing in telling the facts as you know them, taking care of people involved, and working to ensure that whatever the problem, it doesn’t happen again.

Second, if you decide that it is necessary also to apologize as part of your response to what has happened, then say what you mean and mean what you say. That is, you had better mean it.

Because if it is heartfelt, your apology really will be sincere.

That is why you apologize isn’t it, so that people know you mean it.

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