A poorly delivered apology can do more harm than good to a scandal-hit company, but are of techniques that can be employed to mitigate negative fallout, London Business School research shows.
It’s possible a clumsy apology is perceived as being insincere, which will only serve to ratchet up criticism, but Dr Gabe Adams, formerly London Business School assistant professor of organisational behaviour, says there research suggests there are three things companies should focus on when apologising.
The first, she says, is to “choose a senior spokesperson with the ability to apologise sincerely”.
“Second, acknowledge the wrongdoing and accept responsibility for it,” Adams says.
“Saying ‘I’m sorry’ and accepting responsibility may lead to smaller losses than the absence of this expression.
“Third, communicate your sympathy for those who have been harmed or who have suffered, and do what you can to make it right.”
“Delivering a poor apology can damage the company’s reputation and prompt investors to question their association with the business,” Adams says.
“If company representatives get the apology wrong, it is an error subject to scrutiny by investors.”
Among the more high-profile recent cases of an apology being poorly received involved United Airlines, when chief executive Oscar Munoz issuing a second apology about a man forcibly removed from a flight following a negative reaction from the first statement about the incident.
In the initial statement, Munoz apologised “for having to re-accommodate” customers. The second statement, issued following the backlash and United’s stock price taking a hit, described the incident as a “truly horrific event”. Munoz apologised “to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard”.