The Art of the Apology

The Art of the Apology

Take me out to the ballgame

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” 

Benjamin Franklin

So the Astros got busted for cheating (please see our last blog). Now comes the apology part, right? After hiring a PR firm to presumably help craft the message, club owner Jim Crane held a press conference to – one would have hoped – apologize and accept responsibility for his organization’s outrageous conduct. That’s not exactly what happened. We’ve come to expect the usual insincere “celebrity apology” the math of which goes something like this:

  • No genuine emotion
  • + A statement that, while regrettable, the incident is a big misunderstanding that’s been blown out of proportion
  • + Expression of regret that victim took the offensive remarks or conduct the wrong way and not as intended
  • = The only thing I’m really sorry about is that I got caught and I’m having to do this

Somehow, Crane’s apology was even worse, as he said:

  • “Our opinion is that this [cheating] didn’t impact the game”
  • “I’m not in the locker room . . . I’m not down in the dugout . . . I don’t think I should be held accountable . . .” and 
  • “I think I’ve done just about everything I can”

Translation: Even though I run the organization I shouldn’t be held accountable for what others did but trust me to be accountable from now on. Sort of a “Yes, it’s my watch, but” non-apology apology. 

“Apologies” by Astros players weren’t much better. Carlos Correa, in response to criticism from an LA Dodgers player, said via Instagram, “Shut the f**k up.” Pretty contrite!

Let’s hope none of us has to make a public apology – the private variety is challenging enough. But how does one offer a proper apology? Knowing how to do so is part of standing out while fitting in, not to mention being a decent human being. Learning from Mr. Crane, the most obvious lesson is don’t apologize if you don’t think you’ve done anything to apologize for. Reduced to its essence, Crane was apologizing for actions done by others. If that’s really the case, let them do their own apologizing.

The “how” of a proper apology – one that would please Ben Franklin – is not all that complicated. Your mom says it only takes nine words, and goes like this . . . 

“I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred joined the apology parade, and did better. When explaining why the league wouldn’t take away the Astros’ 2017 World Series championship, he referred to the trophy as “a piece of metal.” And so: “In an effort to make a rhetorical point, I referred to the World Series trophy in a disrespectful way and I want to apologize for that. There’s no excuse for it. I made a mistake. I was trying to make a point but I should have made it in a more effective way.’’ Think how much more impactful – sincere and shorter – the apology would have been had he deleted the last line (about what he was trying to do) and said instead, “Please forgive me.”  

To be the kind of people we aspire to be, and to create the kind of workplace culture we want, apologies are in order from time to time. Here’s to having the courage to make our apologies genuine, and to do them right.

Notes and sources: ESPN online article by Jeff Passan, “What to make of Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s public non-apology.”

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