The Apology Epidemic—Where do we go from here?


Roger Goodell took us to a new low last week—staging one of the most disingenuous apologies seen since. . . well since New Jersey Governor Chris Christie staged his theatrical presentation of “Bridgegate Was Not My Fault.”

Image by Butupa

Goodell’s phony display last Friday sparked outrage—and Bill Simmons of ESPN said what everyone is thinking:

“Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar. I’m just saying it. He is lying.  I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail.”  –Bill Simmons

So ESPN suspended Simmons—and then reversed their decision after the public responded with outrage. (sound familiar?)

The apologies keep coming!

In case you haven’t noticed, we are inundated with apologies today. Few of them seem to have true substance and fewer still are backed up with action. Here’s a sample of apologies that occurred over the past week:

  1. The country of Scotland apologized to the Queen of England
    And she “graciously and wholeheartedly” accepted Scotland’s apology for trying to secede from the United Kingdom—according to the New Yorker.
  1. Ferguson police chief apologized to Michael Brown’s family
    Over a month after Michael Brown was killed, a rush of sudden regret compelled the Chief of Police to apologize—according to USA Today
  1. Apple apologized for botching an iPhone software update
    Hoping to stabilize it’s tumbling stock price, Apple apologized for the “great inconvenience” it caused customers –according to the Financial Times.

How to Apologize –by Seth Godin

Godin says there are two elements to an apology: Compassion and Contrition

“‘We’re sorry that your flight was cancelled. This must have truly messed up your day, sir.’

That’s a statement of compassion.

‘Cancelling a flight that a valued customer trusted us to fly is not the way we like to do business. We messed up, it was an error in judgment for us to underinvest in pilot allocation. Even worse, we didn’t do everything we could to get you on a flight that would have helped your schedule. We’ll do better next time.’

That’s what contrition sounds like. We were wrong and we learned from it.”  –Seth Godin


Words are failing us

Seth’s definition of an apology: compassion and contrition is very good, but it’s designed for a world in which words have meaning. Today, words have become almost meaningless, and that’s a hard thing for a writer to admit.

The flood of phony apologies is affecting society. Each dishonest apology reminds us of how dishonest leaders are and how easy it is to avoid the truth. But—particularly after the financial crisis—people don’t want to feel like a sucker any more. They don’t want to extend trust and later find themselves having been played the fool.

And if there’s one sure thing about the financial crisis it’s that millions of Americans felt they had been played. No one is going to take that risk again.

Even words that express contrition have little meaning today. Now, people put their faith in the things they can see and verify for themselves.

A real apology today must include action.

In fact, the best way to apologize is to take action, demonstrate your contrition, and then tell people what you have done to regain their trust.

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