Scripted apologies don’t ring true, no matter how many lawyers and PR people write them

Ryan Braun

Tiger Woods. Lance Armstrong. Ryan Braun. We know what they have in common: scripted apologies to the public.

Ryan Braun issued his last week and Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal brilliantly dissected it. “Almost all of these “apologies” are terrible, seemingly lawyered to the limit, muddied with vague language and half-truths,” Gay wrote.

Gay identified the seven elements of the athlete apology; they apply to all transgressors thrust into the spotlight, whether they be rogue securities traders or convicted CEOs:

  1. Admit you are “not perfect,” and have “made mistakes.”
  2. Be murky with details about the transgression.
  3. Act like this all happened 2,000 years ago.
  4. Say it’s been hard for you, too.
  5. Find a co-signer who says you are doing the right thing.
  6. Act like it’s weird anyone would be upset.
  7. Declare it over!

The right steps, the ones that can truly rehabilitate an image, maybe even the individual, were identified in another Journal article, this one by John Kador, author of the business book “Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust.” He critiqued Lance Armstrong’s apology on Oprah’s show.

  1. Recognition: State the specific offenses for which you are apologizing.
  2. Responsibility: Accept full responsibility for the offenses. No excuses.
  3. Remorse: Use the words “I apologize” or “I’m sorry.”
  4. Restitution: Identify concrete steps you will take to reverse some of the damage inflicted.
  5. Repetition: Reassure victims that you will not repeat the offending behavior.

We could delve into Tiger Woods, but the staging speaks for itself. He addressed 40 friends and family members in person, with no questions from the news media. Time summarized the speech: “Woods issued a carefully worded apology that admits nothing, only his regret that he ‘let [his] family down.’ Indeed, most of the statement is devoted to excoriating the media for creating the firestorm that now surrounds him and his family.”

That’s right, when the truth is incontrovertible, blame the media.

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