After a provincial election debate where liberal leader Kathleen Wynne’s time at the microphone was dominated by apologies, we’re asking: what’s the value of “I’m sorry.” Does a public apology have the power to absolve the giver of wrong doing? Or has the “mea culpa” become a diluted defence?
We heard it several times from Kathleen Wynne Tuesday night. We heard it repeatedly from Rob Ford in the midst of his crack smoking admission. And before them, we heard it from countless politicians and public figures hoping to save face after a flub. While the public apology may be cloyingly common these days, there is still a way to deliver an effective “I’m sorry.”
The two words have become a catch all for missteps — personal, public and political.
Crisis Management Consultant Allen Bonner: “An apology is like a piece of fruit rotting on the shelf in August in a grocery store — it goes bad very quickly.”
In a digital age, when a mea culpa can be uploaded to YouTube or sent to the twitterverse with the click of a mouse, what makes an effective apology?
Allen says: “You have to make your apology have as much emphasis and weight and temperature and power as the offence.”
Don’t take tips from Rob Ford. His crack admission lacked the sincerity due to such a serious transgression.
Allen says: “Rob Ford’s equivocal apologies and inaccurate apologies have taken away his credibility as an apologist or as a poltician.”
The key is to say sorry as soon as possible. And if you started out with a denial, the confession had better be heartfelt.
When it comes to politics, it’s not just about making amends. The tough part is convincing voters when you say it won’t happen again.
Bonner says the more sorries, the better — unless they prevent you from moving away from an incident: “One of the problems with premier Wynne’s apologies was they took the place of her substantial policies.”
We may tire of hearing them, but Bonner says they can be game changers for public figures. A well-timed, well-executed apology can trigger what he calls an ‘act 2’ after a disastrous downfall.