Think about the worst thing you've ever done.
Okay, that's probably too insane a way to start this column. Instead, think about the worst thing you've ever done--that you either got caught doing, or you decided to 'fess up about before anyone caught you--and for which you had to craft an apology.
Did you say you were sorry effectively? Were your relationships repaired? If I were to hear your story and then reach out to the other people involved, would they curse your name or grin wryly--remembering how difficult a time that was, and how long ago it all now seems?
An effective apology repairs a lot of damage. I've been thinking about this a bit recently in the wake of the news about Russell Simmons's Rush Card, a sort of prepaid card that was used by millions of so-called "unbanked" Americans. In case you haven't been following, the Associated Press gives us this summary:
Technical problems tied to RushCard moving to a new payment processor, a division of MasterCard, caused hundreds of thousands of RushCard customers to lose access to their money for as many as 10 days earlier this month. Many RushCard customers are low-income minority Americans who don't have traditional bank accounts. Without access to their money stored on their RushCards, some customers said they could not buy food for their families, pay bills, or even pay for gas to get to their jobs.
The debacle swept through social media. Simmons' Twitter and Instagram accounts became places for RushCard customers to plead for access to their money.
Given the situation, Simmons handled the apology pretty well. He has reportedly put up millions of dollars so far out of his pocket to reimburse users, and his initial apology hit all the right notes:
"I want to personally reassure you that your funds are safe and that we are addressing every issue as quickly as possible," Simmons said in a Facebook video when the crisis first broke . "I deeply apologize for the hardship this is causing and give you my solemn commitment that we will fix these problems."
A few years ago, while reporting on another public figure's apology, I came across a pretty good checklist for making a good apology, offered by consultant Josh Patrick. Back in 1990, Patrick was running a food service company that found itself at the center of a salmonella outbreak, and his apologizing skills were put to the test. Here are his seven key points to making a good apology:
1. Tell the truth. The coverup is usually worse than the crime.
2. Take responsibility.
3. Be the bearer of bad news. Don't let clients and other stakeholders learn about your failings from someone else.
4. Understand that you have to earn everyone's trust again.
5. Plan ahead. Patrick says his best crisis control step was one he'd taken months before, when his management team held a strategic planning meeting to talk about worst case scenarios.
6. Learn from your mistakes--and demonstrate how you've learned.
7. Be transparent. Stakeholders usually understand that you'll be reacting on the fly to the kinds of things you have to apologize for. It's like math class in middle school--you don't get credit unless you show your work.