Apologies have been much in the news this week. More specifically, Donald Sterling, in his interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, in attempting to apologize, actually demonstrated how NOT to apologize, and how an apology can backfire if not carefully crafted.
After watching the CNN interview, I decided to delve into the issue of “apologies”. As we all know, an apology can be powerful in a given situation. When used in the right manner, it can turn anger into forgiveness, but… as we have seen this past week, when used ineptly; it can make a bad situation even worse.
A few years ago, The Harvard Program on Negotiation posted a blog about apologies, noting that to be effective, the apologizer must accept blame unequivocally (and not make excuses or try to put it on someone else) and must express regret for what has happened. Accordingly, a “true” apology consists of seven elements:
A sincere apology can include up to seven of the following components, according to Schweitzer and Wharton colleagues Jack Hershey and Eric Bradlow. They include: (1) a statement of apology (“I’m sorry”), (2) an expression of remorse (“I feel terrible about this!”), (3) an offer to help (“I’ll be sure to tell your boss that this is all my fault”), (4) self-blame (“It was careless of me to have made this mistake”), (5) a request for forgiveness (“Please accept my heartfelt apology”), (6) a promise regarding the future (“I won’t let this happen again”), and (7) an explanation (“I was so busy with another project that I let this fall through the cracks”). Although not all of these components are necessary for an apology to be effective, as a general rule, the more serious the violation, the more detailed the apology should be. ( Id.)
The most important aspect of an apology is sincerity: one absolutely must be sincere when apologizing. If the person to whom the apology is being made intuits that the apology is insincere, the apology will surely backfire, and if anything, make the situation worse. This is precisely what we saw this past week!
While Mr. Sterling stated, “I am sorry” more than once during the interview with Anderson Cooper, he neither really expressed remorse nor offered to help or to otherwise “right the wrong”. Rather, he placed the blame on his predicament on “that girl” – V. Stiviano- claiming she “baited” him into saying those things. It was NOT his fault; he did not know why he said those things etc. The essence of an apology is to unequivocally accept responsibility for what one has done; precisely, what Mr. Sterling did NOT do… and to be sincere. While Mr. Sterling attempted to convey sincerity, his own words showed exactly the opposite by his derisive if not racial comments he made about Magic Johnson. If he is, indeed, not a racist, why did he verbally bash Mr. Johnson so brutally, who, as Mr. Johnson said in his own interview with Mr. Anderson, has absolutely nothing to do with this situation?
While Mr. Sterling made the news somewhat interesting this week, more importantly, and quite unwittingly, he gave us all a lesson on the do’s and don’ts of apologies.
…Just something to think about.
By Phyllis G. Pollack