Sorry, Not Sorry

Handling a Public Apology with Grace

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There’s been a lot of talk recently about how companies — like Pepsi — and public figures — like Sean Spicer — should handle their public apologies. The New York Times even put together a timeline of United’s apologies which — as someone who has to write and deliver public apologies for a living — makes me want to cringe. However, there’s a lot to learn from these missteps that can help you in protecting your brand.

I recently sat in on a training given by Stephen Young, author of “Micromessaging: Why Leadership is Great Beyond Words.” He advised on one of the aforementioned public apologies (I won’t say who!), and here are a few of his tips that I found particularly insightful:

Tip #1: Make the apology quickly.

Thanks to social media and a 24–7 news cycle, you don’t have the luxury to wait too long to issue a public apology. You have to get it out quickly and make sure the tone is right — from the very beginning.

Tip #2: Apologies need to be authentic.

Nothing is worse than a bad apology. Make sure you mean it and it’s sincere. If you don’t mean it, then don’t bother apologizing (this goes for your personal life too!). Sounds easy enough, right?

Tip #3: Don’t use conditioning statements.

You shouldn’t start the apology with a condition attached (e.g. “if what I said I offended you, then I am sorry”). People don’t want to hear excuses — just keep it simple and to the point.

Tip #4: Use “I” in your apology.

Have someone from your organization take ownership of the apology. This could be a person in a leadership position or the company spokesperson. They should say “I am sorry.” The collective “we” can also work, but “I” statements have more power.

What are some of your tips for making sure your apology is well received? Leave me a comment!

First shift: PR professional | Second shift: Wife and boy mom | Find me at:

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