In a perfect storm of irony I was all set to write about the power of apology in business this week, and wouldn’t you know it, I was served up the ideal how not do it by celebrities in Lalaland. For those of you who missed it, Will Smith decided to let rage and violence dominate when comedian, Chris Rock made a cheap gag about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith at this week’s Oscars awards night in Los Angeles, USA.
Normally when someone leaves their sense of right and wrong at home and acts in such a fashion they have time to consider their actions and come up with a well crafted and sincere apology. Smith, strangely enough, was gift wrapped the perfect opportunity mere minutes after his slap and expletive ridden tirade by winning the best male actor Oscar.
“Good stuff,” I thought, “now he can do the right thing, fall on his sword and act with some dignity and class.” Nope, I was wrong. Instead of actually apologising to the man he had physically assaulted, he offered his contrition to everybody else. He offered some strange hyper-masculine excuse about ‘defending his family” and shed a few tears. Yeah, nah. Perfect opportunity for some sort of redemption blown.
Less than 24 hours later, those who surround Smith have obviously reminded him that when you apologise, you should actually apologise to the actual person you have wronged, and he has. Good for him. But it is a huge chink in his armour and will always be an illuminating chapter in whatever legacy he leaves behind. Hard to take a dude gassing on about peace and love seriously when he’s got no problem slapping someone in the face, in from of millions of people, on what could have been, one of the best moments in his career.
However, as I said at the start, this ‘event’ was ironic for me as I had been thinking about the power of the apology in business and how do do it right – and wrong! Firstly – we all mess up – despite our very best intentions or our adherence to excellence. We are human and human beings make mistakes. I think we all know that. There is a real strength in admitting our errors and offering to make amends, that goes a long way and creates lasting value in the perceptions of others – just as ignoring responsibility and blaming everyone else does too.
Customers have expectations and believe that when they are told something, it is true. When they are given guarantees, or deadlines, they believe them, more than that, they put stock in them. So when that bond is broken by an unforeseen act, or omission, it is imperative to make it right and the first part of that is the apology.
The best apology of all is genuine and simple. it does three things – it admits responsibility, owns it, and then offers to make amends. It starts with three words, “I am sorry.” It does not then wander off to blame someone else, or a whole raft of others; it doesn’t include, ‘buts’ or excuses. That simple apology is strong and comforting. It gives the recipient a sense of acceptance and relief. It is then followed up by actions to remedy the original wrong.
Now that may sound obvious but trust me, it isn’t, or not to everyone. Some still think it’s the 1950s and apology is a weakness. It isn’t. Real weakness is gaslighting and the failure to take responsibility. Weakness is chucking everyone else under the bus rather than taking it on the chin. Yes, a mixed metaphor, I am truly sorry!