When is an apology not enough? Well, the answer to that question is a moving target, but, generally, it’s up to the audience you are speaking to. Sometimes you can apologize, mean it, and it’s simply not enough to placate those who feel transgressed.
One current example of this dynamic is former Presidential candidate and current Senator Bernie Sanders. Recently, Sanders has been criticized for his perceived lack of response to allegations of sexual harassment made by women who worked on his campaign. To be clear, these people did not accuse Sanders directly, but said he has not done enough to respond to their allegations.
Last week, Sanders addressed the issue directly in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “I am not going to sit here and tell you that we did everything right in terms of human resources, in terms of addressing the needs that I’m hearing from now, that women felt they were disrespected, that there was sexual harassment which was not dealt with as effectively as possible… I was little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case.”
Many criticized this response, saying it didn’t go far enough, that Sanders sounded dismissive, and that he was not taking appropriate responsibility or action, especially considering the rumors he’s thinking about another presidential run. Sanders then came out and offered a personal apology to “any woman who feels like she was not treated appropriately…”
Sanders went on to say he and his campaign had a clear stance on equality of treatment for women: “We put forward the strongest set of principles in terms of mandatory training, in terms of women, if they felt harassed, having an independent firm that they can go to… And I think that that’s kind of the gold standard of what we should be doing.”
Sanders, perhaps understanding the direction in which public response was trending, quickly added, “Of course, if I run, we will do better next time…”
So far, response to this version of the apology remains mixed. Some say it’s good enough while others still say that initial response clouded anything else that may be said going forward. This is a very important factor to consider. If you flub the first response to a PR issue, you dig a deeper hole for yourself. So, be very careful how and when you respond to a PR challenge.
If your messaging or brand has offended or transgressed in some way, you don’t always get to be the one who decides when you’ve made it right. In those situations, sometimes the best you can do is the best you can do… Other times, you might engage in conversation or exchange messages in order to learn what more may be possible to bridge the gap.