Why sorry seems to be the hardest word: the art of apology


In the new novel, “A Thousand Pardons,” the protagonist (stay-at-home mom turned professional crisis communicator) urges her clients to apologize honestly and sincerely for their misdeeds. No dancing around the subject, no past passive exonerative (“mistakes were made”), nothing too clever by half.  Just a humble “I’m sorry. I did a bad thing. I will make up for it.”  They listen—because they have no choice—and surprisingly it works. For their careers and hers.

In a parallel universe, JC Penney has come forward and admitted the error of its ways (pricing, merchandising, shopping ambiance) with a new campaign that urges its consumers to give them another chance. “Come back to JCPenney. We heard you. Now, we’d love to see you.” The appeals are heartfelt, the commercials are lovely to look at and they appear to be rebuilding their business (the recent Michael Graves tea kettle misfortune notwithstanding).

An apology articulately stated and artfully delivered can go a long way in repairing a  brand’s damaged interest or restoring consumer confidence. On the other hand, there are just some predicaments that not even an apology, however authentic, can overcome. Anthony Weiner, comes to mind. As Frank Bruni wondered in his June 2 opinion column in the NYT, “are voters ready for a mayor whose assets have been as visible as yours?”

The candidate and his apologists will soon find out.

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