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“I apologize”…

September 22, 2009

An apology… A business etiquette protocol, a good marketing strategy or just plain grace?

Last week we raised the question of etiquette faux pas relating to your professional image: specifically, how to apologize once you have made a mistake. 

It’s certainly been a season for high-profile apologies. First there was South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and his apology for the affair with his Argentinian “soulmate.” Then tennis superstar Serena Williams had to summon an apology for the tantrum she threw at the U.S. Open. Rapper Kanye West went on Jay Leno and managed a painful apology to country teen star Taylor Swift for snatching the mic from her at the MTV Video Music Awards. And finally, there was Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who apologized to the President but was censured last week by the House of Representatives for refusing to apologize to his colleagues for breaching House protocol when he shouted “You lie!” during President Obama’s address to Congress on health care reform.

As is usually the case in high-profile mea culpas, people have a much more difficult time grappling with the apology than they do making the mistake in the first place. This week we offer you a few steps to making an apology easier.

According to the 12th century philosopher-sage Maimonides, genuine forgiveness is the product of an introspective process requiring the following four steps (the four R’s):

Recognition of what we did wrong and why we did it; Regret for what we did and a resolve to not do it again; Repair of any damage done, which includes apologizing directly to the person we hurt; and, only at the end of this process, Reconciliation.

Sorry Seeking forgiveness and offering sincere apologies take time and are primarily acts between the person who was wrong and the person who was wronged. But something is off in our public culture when we have celebrities confusing harm to their own public image with harming the public and when we the public have confused the responsibility to make amends to the people actually hurt. Not surprisingly, all these apologies feel so superficial and tawdry because they are less about forgiveness and more about damage control, less a product of introspection and more about remaining on the public stage.

 

Here are a few tips on fixing a faux pas with an apology:

*To be effective, an apology has to be sincere, not just an exercise in spin control.

*The apology should not be manipulative. Explanations are okay, but excuses are not.

 At first, Williams showed little remorse for the profane outburst that cost her the U.S. Open match. “I don’t remember anymore,” she said. “Well, how many people yell at linespeople?” she added. A day later, there was more contrition: In a statement put out by a public relations firm, she acknowledged that “in the heat of battle I let my passion and emotion get the better of me and as a result handled the situation poorly.” It was a day later, but it finally came.

*The person apologizing has to take responsibility for his actions, and avoid the dreaded “if I offended you, then I apologize” gambit.

As it happened, West first apologized on his blog, where he said “I’m soooo sorry to Taylor Swift and her fans and her mom.” But then he added: “Beyonce’s video was the best of this decade!!!”

*It’s important for the person who makes an apology to do better next time.

On this note we at the Polished Professional would like to apologize for any typographical and grammar mishaps that we have committed. We have added our own “protocols” to make sure that we do better. We hope to build a reputation of trust with you and pledge to keep our work at the highest of standards.

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