Mastering the art of the public apology

Deflecting blame doesn’t cut it. Neither does, ‘I’m sorry if you anyone was offended.’ And words mean little without restorative actions. Give your mea culpa real meaning.

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Ragan Insider Content

In 1976, Elton John sang, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”

Today it’s hard to turn on your computer, TV, or radio or pick up a newspaper without seeing a politician, a movie star, a corporate CEO, or a PR executive saying they’re sorry for something that went wrong or something they said.

Some come across as sincere, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s apology for his staff’s role in reducing local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, resulting in traffic jams in Fort Lee for several days. Of course, investigators will determine whether he spoke the truth or not about prior knowledge, but the apology seemed earnest.

During his now famous news conference, which would run more than 90 minutes, his first paragraph contained the word “apologize” three times.

“I come out here to this office where I’ve been many times before to apologize to the people of New Jersey. I apologize to the people of Fort Lee, and I apologize to the members of the state legislature,” Christie said.

He would use the word “apologize” 29 times and added the word “sorry” three other times.

A change in policy