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The New York Times Will Expose Your Fake Apologies with #ApologyWatch

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A New York Times reporter and a corporate reputation specialist walked into a bar this week and came to the same conclusion: they’ve had enough of your clients’ fake apologies.

Both business writer Andrew Ross Sorkin and LRN CEO Dov Seidman argue that execs and public figures who once opposed apologizing in public have started doing it all the damn time, and they want to make it stop.

Whether we’re talking indicted bankers, embattled politicians or cheating athletes, lots of people are stepping up to the mic to tell the public that they’re sorry for whatever they did and that it will never happen again. But Sorkin and Seidman look at those weepy, white-haired millionaires and see nothing but media coaching and crocodile tears.

So now they plan to expose the fakers—and they even came up with their own hashtag to do it.

Seidman says this “apology crisis” is turning into a parody of itself and rendering the word “sorry” all but meaningless. Consider:

  • Lance Armstrong’s terrible Oprah appearance
  • Snapchat’s “OK, fine, we’re sorry, now leave us alone” response to the hacking incident
  • The half-assed 60 Minutes mea culpa for its 100% false “reporting” on Benghazi

He goes on to call such “apology washing” offensive and calls for a cease-fire, because now those who honestly want to say they’re sorry get lumped in with the liars. Here are the takeaways:

  • A true apology must be visibly painful for the guilty party
  • Self-serving statements aren’t enough; the people responsible must accept and address public criticism
  • The act of listening won’t do it either. Individuals or businesses must act and take steps to remedy the problem by addressing its root cause, be it greed, cultural bankruptcy or personal failings
  • They must not only change their behavior but demonstrate the visible results of that change to both their individual accusers and the public at large

Seidman suggests that we turn this into a research issue and develop empirical ways to measure the effects of each apology. Sound familiar?

His opinion inspired Sorkin, who announces in a separate piece that he will create an “Apology Watch” series on his Dealbook blog in order to chronicle both the best and the worst of the bunch with the help of the titular hashtag. A quick Twitter search reveals that the trend hasn’t quite taken off yet, but these things take time.

This reminds us of a point made by reputation specialist Carreen Winters of MWW about Lululemon: while the American people are very forgiving, they’re also skeptical. And if they find out that your client didn’t really mean it when he said “I’m sorry” then they won’t be so quick to forgive.

Something tells us that Seidman and Sorkin won’t be able to end this epidemic, but it should be fun to watch them try.

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