Ralph Northam and the modern apology
Apologizing like you really mean it is crucial to any successful relationship.
A legitimate “sorry” matters whether at home, at work, you’re a company that hurt millions of customers, and even in politics.
The career site Mindtools.com says a real apology follows four steps: express remorse, admit responsibility, make amends, and promise it won’t happen again.
But many successful modern leaders teach more strategic apology approaches we all could use to defeat loved ones and anyone who raises questions about our actions. Here are my ten favorites:
1. The Bill Clinton.
Example: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the — if he — if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not — that is one thing.”
Confusion over semantics can lead to the coveted, “What? Whatever. Never mind.”
2. The United Airlines.
Strategy: Blame the victim.
Example: The beaten and bloodied passenger was “disruptive and belligerent.”
Also see Every Major Corporate Scandal Response for the best legalistic defense that accepts no responsibility, and then after a multi-billion dollar settlement, re-brands the company as caring about humanity. With a bright new logo.
3. The Bill O’Reilly.
Strategy: Bluster and play victim. Throw in your kids who are victimized by your victimization.
Example: “You know, am I mad at God? Yeah, I’m mad at him. I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn’t happen. I can’t explain it to you. If I die tomorrow and I get an opportunity, I’ll say ‘why’d you guys work me over like that? Didn’t know my children were going to be punished? And they’re innocent.’”
4. The Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos.
Strategy: When in a hole, keep digging.
Example: “With each FDA filing, Theranos is showing that our finger-stick tests are just as accurate as venous draws, starting with our first FDA clearance this summer.”
Theranos and Holmes are now out of business and under federal indictment facing criminal charges related to fraudulent claims about their revolutionary blood test.
5. The Trump.
Strategy: Never express remorse, admit responsibility, make amends and promise it won’t happen again. You never do anything wrong and even if you did, people who really love you don’t care. When all else fails, blame the media for quoting you verbatim.
Example: “Mexico will build the wall.” See also: ~7,600 lies or misleading claims in nearly 750 days in office.
Note to kids: If the president does it, it must be OK.
6. The Harvey Weinstein.
Strategy: Blame Hugh Heffner.
Example: “I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
If that doesn’t work because you were born in the 80’s, blame Bill Clinton. Otherwise, blame drugs and alcohol that made you an ass but you’re getting help.
7. The Louis C.K., Act I.
Strategy: Full open kimono, exposing your human failings that involved opening your kimono, plus shocked realization of what most decent people know by instinct or intuition, or from growing up with humans.
Example: “What I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your d**k isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them.”
If people can’t open their hearts when you open your heart about opening your pants, then they’re the sick ones.
8. The Louis C.K., Act II (The Comeback).
Strategy: Joke — not really sorry.
Example: New stand-up set mocking survivors of the Parkland school shooting.
9. The Mark Zuckerberg.
Strategy: Sneer at stupid questions.
Zuckerberg (before U.S. Senate inquiry into Facebook’s gross abuses of privacy and trust): I’ll answer the question. You want answers?
Senator: I think I’m entitled to them.
Zuckerberg: You want answers?!
Senator: I want the truth!
Zuckerberg: You can’t handle the truth!
10. The Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.
Example: I’m truly sorry. But on further review and huddling with family, friends and advisers, I didn’t do it. That’s not me. So actually I’m not sorry. Although I may have authorized it. Also, I did once do it, but at a different time. So I’m sorry about that time but not the other time. That’s not who I am.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer