Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to say.
Like, ‘I love you’.
Or, ‘I’m sorry’.
Or, ‘Yes, I ate your leftovers’.
You get the idea.
It’s the golden rule of crisis management. Yet why is apologising so hard?
Every self-help book out there will tell you that being able to say sorry when you’ve messed up is one of the keys to maintaining a successful relationship (I’m just guessing here, this definitely isn’t from personal experience). And just as in personal relationships, as in crisis communications, sometimes saying sorry can be the difference between a disagreement strengthening a relationship or ending it.
Yet time and time again we see companies exhausting every tool in the toolkit, refusing to say ‘we’re sorry’ until the damage has been done and their reputation is ruined. Just like that time your ex-boyfriend only apologised for sleeping with your best friend AFTER you dumped him (sorry, touchy subject?). It’s a classic case of too little, too late.
Often, we don’t apologise because we see saying sorry as admitting fault. We are so intent on being right that we miss the point;
‘When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.’ (Louis C.K.)
In today’s world of social media where scandals spread quicker than your ex-BFF’s legs, timing is everything. It is more important than ever to apologise, and quickly at that. For a type A perfectionist like myself, the hardest part about working in PR is that you can’t always control the story. What you can control, however, is how you respond.
Admitting you made a mistake is never easy, but it is one of the most important communications skills to learn – both in our personal and professional lives. What if I told you it’s as easy as 1,2,3?
- Say sorry
And mean it. If your apology involves anything along the lines of ‘we apologise for any inconvenience caused’, don’t bother.
- Accept responsibility
Leave the buts at home. If you’ve ever dated someone that would do something hurtful, and then say something like ‘well I’m sorry you’re offended, BUT…’ you know that nothing ruins an apology quite like following it up with an excuse. JUST SAY YOU’RE SORRY SO WE CAN MOVE ON BRAD.
- Here’s how I’m going to fix it
A verb means action, something done, to read, to write, to jump, to run… Action statements are your friend. Tell us what you’re doing now to resolve the issue and what you’re going to do in the future to prevent it from happening again.
- Follow through
Okay, I lied. There’s two more steps. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. See what I did there? This step is where every guy I’ve ever dated seems to trip up, so listen up, boys. For an apology to mean anything, you have to actually follow through on your promises. Mind-blowing, I know.
- Move on
The thing is, we’re all human. Sometimes we make mistakes. Whether it’s a campaign that misses the mark, a public meltdown à la 2007 Britney Spears, or accidentally putting a Made in New Zealand label on a t-shirt that was actually made in Bangladesh… Ahem.
So, next time you eat the last slice of leftover Domino’s, or make a mistake which sends your companies’ share prices plummeting down, repeat after me:
I screwed up. I’m sorry. Here’s how I’m going to fix it.
And if that doesn’t work, you can always try flowers.
By Sophie Sager