I apologize in advance to anyone reading this who can’t appreciate the insights offered in this post or who disagrees with the public relations expertise shared here.
See what I did there? Call it the no-pology, the fauxpology, or the if-pology – but it’s far too common today. A cheap and lazy way to publicly express regret, the non-apology is more false than fake news, because literally no one believes it. It places implicit blame on those who were offended. They’re just too sensitive, too unreasonable, or they don’t have a sense of humor. You’re wrong, of course, but I’m really sorry if you feel that way.
Non-pologies are far too common
Jay Rosen pointed out the latest example in a video of Facebook’s CTO stumbling his way through a non-pology to members of the British parliament when challenged on Facebook’s litigation threats to U.K. media. There are unfortunately many more examples of the evasive, manipulative, or even hostile fake apology. The #metoo movement and subsequent toppling of many in positions of power have contributed to the fauxpology trend.
Take actor Kevin Spacey’s response to a younger actor’s allegations of sexual assault. Spacey claims not to remember the incident in question but says that “if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
Spacey’s statement is particularly empty because it seeks to both deny the behavior as well as wriggle off the hook for it with syrupy language. Also, it’s not credible.
Timing is important, too. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was famous for his sorry/not sorry statements after outrageous personal and professional conduct came to light. It’s ironic that his first truly sincere apology, to an Uber driver who challenged him about the company’s pricing, came in response to a tirade in which he accused the driver of failing to take responsibility for his own “stuff” (a euphemism.) In the apology, Kalanick admits he needs to “grow up” and pledges to get help. But for the Uber founder, the goodwill bank was empty, and he was ultimately deposed.
It’s time for the PRs, pundits, and lawyers to stop counseling clients to offer mealy-mouthed non-apologies as a way of checking off a box in their own reputation defense, or staving off legal action. They’re unlikely to work, and the public has grown far too smart and cynical to fall for the fauxpology. For more on how to construct a truly effective public apology, check out this post. But for those not willing (or able) to take responsibility for an action and offer a sincere expression of regret, don’t bother.