When Sorry is the Hardest Word
By Jennefer Witter, CEO and Founder, The Boreland Group Inc.
Do we live in an age of blatant untruths, where falsehoods are benignly accepted as fact and dishonesty is overlooked? Where apologies drenched in self-interest are acceptable? I don’t think so. If anything, in the world of instant media where a tweet zooms around the globe faster than the proverbial speeding bullet, attention to what is true or false, what is sincere or not, is rapidly magnified and called out by an increasingly sophisticated public.
What is not addressed is how to effectively manage the fallout from such situations. Apologizing is an art that many have not yet mastered. Donald Sterling, the owner of the LA Clippers, is a recent example. Paula Deen, the former Food Network personality, is another. And let’s not forget Chip Wilson, Lululemon’s founder. Epic failures all.
Their so-called apologies share several commonalities – none were authentic; they did not accept responsibility; and, most of all, the mea culpas seemed more directed at protecting their respective businesses and/or reputations than correcting the wrong at hand. Instead of squashing the problem, their inept handling amplified their misdoings.
In this era of rapid fire news cycles, there is enormous pressure to respond sooner rather than later. This rush has many pitfalls. Yes, some crises need to addressed in an ASAP manner. However, as I always advise my clients, take the time – no matter how urgent the issue is – to fully prepare before going public. There is no going back once you take that first step and pre-planning – including intensive media training – should always be part of the strategy.
But should that first step even be made? There are some who believe that being silent is to admit fault. In an earlier op-ed that I wrote for this publication, I recommended that Sterling should do just that-keep quiet. However, he didn’t and his CNN interview with Anderson Cooper has added an unneeded layer of controversy on an already bad situation.
Truth and credibility will always matter. The public knows when they are being taken for fools and the blowback can be as bad as the actual instance that triggered it. Donald Sterling, for one, is learning just that.