Apologising is an important issue for anyone involved in PR and particularly in dealing with both issues and crises. I will often talk about the importance of saying sorry when problems occur and doing it as quickly as possible to have maximum impact. But 2022 seems to be the year when saying sorry was given a bad name.
It is interesting to dissect the Liz Truss apology and why it has had no impact on the public ratings according to the latest polls.
Earlier this year we had the spectacle of the Boris Johnson ‘sorry, not sorry’ when he finally had to account for his lockdown rule breaking and associated behaviour. It had no sincerity and no impact on what followed. In the past few days, we have witnessed his successor Liz Truss saying sorry a number of times saying that she had made mistakes in the handling of the economy since she took up the post.
First, the apology is only credible if the events were unforeseen and had not been anticipated or predicted. This was not the case for the financial situation and the mini budget as there were a number of key institutions and people who had stated the likely impact of the action being planned. They were not listening to the experts and the advice that was given.
Second, to have any impact the apology needed to happen immediately that the financial impact of the decisions made was obvious. Delaying the response has watered down the potency of the apology. It becomes an apology as a strategy to minimise the difficult situation rather than a human response to circumstances.
Third, the body language and the approach need to show contrition and a recognition that you understand what happened and why it happened. You need to show it is about more than just words and this has not been in evidence during the past few days .
Fourth, if you are admitting to getting things wrong and making mistakes you need to be able to quickly demonstrate that this is a blip and that you can have a positive impact. Liz Truss has left others to show the positive steps being taken both with Penny Mordaunt answering questions on Monday, and the Chancellor providing the statements to the public and Parliament.
Finally, you have to learn from your mistakes and from whatever you are apologising for. What did you realise you did? What will you do differently? How will you change and adapt? Again, this is sadly lacking from the commentary that exists. There is still talk around taking the same steps but at a slower pace.
Heartfelt apologies are what really matter when there is a problem, and a crisis develops. It has to be rooted in recognition of failings and a desire to change. Saying sorry without a plan of action that follows it and without communication that supports it will never be enough.