Make Your Apology Faultless

Failing to notify car owners of a fatally flawed ignition switch is bad enough. Sending belated recall notices to victim survivors reflected an even greater failing. [Credit: Reuters]People make mistakes, sometimes really big ones. Owning your mistakes is one path to redemption. Compounding your mistakes is the road to perdition. 

GM is a perfect case in point. After failing to notify GM car owners of faulty ignition switches for nearly a decade, which resulted in numerous deaths, GM compounded the problem by sending belated recall notices to the survivors of victims. Its careless follow-through generated more ire, louder congressional hearings and car buyer doubts.

In the newspaper world, there was a standing order for staff to pay special attention to any correction going into print. You would be surprised how often corrections are muffed, enraging people who already were miffed. Correcting a correction is the work of fools. 

Nothing undermines an apology more than an apology followed by another faux pas. The second flub tells people your apology wasn't sincere, or at least sincere enough to bother to double-check your words. What you intended as remorse comes across as indifference or insensitivity.

How you handle a mistake, big or small, is the key to whether you build or erode trust. People are forgiving. But they have a hard time forgiving deceit and cover-ups. And they have a harder time forgetting clumsy, careless responses and apologies.

A klutz may make for a funny summer movie, but a real-life klutz is not someone most people want hanging around. When you make a mistake, the pressure is on not to make a second one in cleaning up the first one. It's worth the effort and super-diligence to make your apology or correction faultless.