The Value of Apologising - Campbell Squared
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The Value of Apologising

Sir Elton John famously penned that “sorry seems to be the hardest word.” It’s a sentiment that still rings true for many today.

It’s also true that there is value in apologising. But there is also a strong argument for choosing your communications tools and strategies carefully when the time comes.

Before you drop that all important S bomb, make sure you’re where the buck stops. If you’re to blame, say sorry. Of course, it may pay to check with lawyers before you do. Some may advise it admits liability.

But if there are grounds to apologise, admitting you’ve made a mistake is the first, albeit difficult, step on the path to putting things right again.

The value of front-footing the apology is multifaceted and boils down to a few things: maintaining your reputation, keeping stakeholders on-side, and simply, doing the right thing by those around us.

Firstly, it’s vital for maintaining relationships with your key stakeholders and the people that matter: whether that’s clients, customers, or even staff. At the heart of every apology is a person hurting. It’s important the person apologising acknowledges that and understands what they’re saying sorry for. 

Take the recent power outage in Aotearoa as an example. A series of events led to lights and heaters going off in tens of thousands of homes on a chilly night.

At its core, it was customers who felt aggrieved. They were cold, and left in the dark – both figuratively, and literally. The power cut was a surprise many weren’t prepared for.

Transpower said they were sorry, explaining an error made it worse than it needed to be as providers were asked to cut more power than necessary.

This response, and any response, will matter to stakeholders. They need to know moving forward that they can trust you, even if you get a frosty reaction initially. Showing remorse for your mistakes proves to stakeholders that you are reliable. Saying you’re sorry (and meaning it!) could be the difference between the relationship coming to an end or continuing.

Other things to consider:

  • Your language. Saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” can insinuate you’re only apologising because they’re offended. Don’t apologise if you’re not sorry – disingenuity can be just as harmful.
  • Keep it brief. If the apology drags, it can run the risk of sounding insincere or like a box ticking exercise. Keep it to the point. People can have short attention spans. But they want to know what you’re sorry for, why, and what you’re going to do about it.
  • If you’re apologising online, video is a great tool. At the end of the day, people are at the heart of the apology. A person should also be at the coal face of the apology. Seeing genuine remorse goes a long way to repairing relationships.

And most importantly: follow through. How are you going to right your wrongs? As the adage goes: “people won’t always remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how they felt”. Own your mistakes, say you’re sorry, and right your wrongs with genuine action.

The truth is apologies never end at ‘sorry’. It merely marks the beginning of crisis communications. The real value lies in the changes that follow. Without change, history can repeat itself, and it might leave you back at square one before you know it.  

The recent power outage is a prime example of walking the walk.

Transpower made sure to keep homes well-lit and warm the following night. For many disgruntled customers, it’s the change they needed to see while winter raged on.

And remember, we are never defined by our mistakes, but how we respond to them. If that means you’ve got to say that all-important S-word; say it with sincerity in your heart, and with your mind firmly focused on changing for the future.