I just finished reading an excellent book, Good Self, Bad Self by Judy Smith. She is a crisis management expert who is the basis of Kerry Washington’s character in the ABC series Scandal. She shows how personality traits like ego, ambition, and accommodation can lead people to success, but also cause tremendous downfalls. She not only provides well-known examples like Tiger Woods, Bernie Madoff, and Dennis Kozlowski, she shows examples from the setbacks of ordinary people. Her advice can benefit the (in)famous and non-so-famous alike.
One of most useful pieces of information she shares is how to apologize. Tiger Woods is one example of how an apology is an important first step in rebuilding a tarnished reputation — but only when it is done sincerely and properly. Here is what Judy Smith teaches about giving an apology.
Before you can give an apology, you first have to recognize what you did wrong, take ownership of it, and understand the consequences of your actions. To do this, she provides what she calls the POWER model, which can be applied to different types of problems. POWER is an acronym that stands for:
- Pinpoint the core personality trait responsible for your problem, whether it is fear, indulgence, impatience, or another cause.
- Own it: Acknowledge how this trait has helped and hurt you.
- Work it through: Identify how this trait has played a role in your life.
- Explore it: Consider how it could play out in the future.
- Rein it in: Determine how to regain balance and self-control.
It’s important to do this soul-searching before you give the apology. Otherwise, you wind up giving the apology that isn’t an apology. The “I’m sorry, but (I have an excuse so I don’t have to admit responsibility).” Or the “I’m sorry if I offended anyone (but it’s their fault they got upset by what I did).” As Columbia University ombudsman Marsha L. Wagner said, “A weak apology can make things worse.” Smith shares Wagner’s essential elements of an apology:
- A common understanding of the exact substance and nature of the offense or perceived offense.
- Recognition of responsibility or accountability on the part of the one who offended.
- Acknowledgement of the pain or embarrassment that the offended party experienced.
- A judgement about the offense.
- A statement of regret.
- An indication of future intentions.
Smith shares examples of sincere and insincere apologies, but I want to share an example of an apology I had to give. It was in the first months after I became president of Saddleback Little League. There was an ugly dust-up among the Senior All-Star team. Although I wasn’t involved, I felt that as league president, I had to say something to the kids. So, I wrote them a letter of apology. A year later, a father of one of those players talked to me on the field. He said, “I wanted to thank you in person for the letter you wrote to my son. He was really upset about what happened. What you said meant a lot to him. It made him want to come back and play.”
A good apology can do more than salvage a reputation. It can rebuild relationships, lift people’s spirits, and begin the healing process for all. These are reasons why it is essential to offer a heartfelt and sincere apology.