When the best apology is none at all
by Jenn Dahm
Message always matters, but it REALLY matters when you’ve made a mistake. Just ask Jamie Dimon. He’s the CEO of JP Morgan, and his company messed up big, losing 2 billion dollars on risky investments this quarter. On NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday, Dimon dealt with the mistake saying the bank was “dead wrong,” “sloppy,” and “stupid.” What he has not said is “I’m sorry.”
We know from our work helping dozens of companies message their mess ups that there’s a subtle, but important, difference between admitting you made a mistake and actually apologizing for it. We’ve found that the public wants to see leaders own their decisions—both the good and the bad. They want them to take responsibility for their actions or mistakes. They want them to be humble and be human. But they often respond negatively to the words “I’m sorry.” Why? For some, it’s because they see “I’m sorry” as sign of weakness. Others just don’t believe them. And still others want to know what they are doing to address it. Simply put, the words I’m sorry doesn’t come across as the language of a leader.
So when is apologizing appropriate? People want explicit apologies when someone has been harmed, gotten sick, been hurt or died as a result of a mistake (I’m talking to you Toyota, Tylenol, and Costa Concordia). But those examples are few.
Are people angry at JP Morgan’s mistake? Yes. Does it erode confidence in financial industry? You betcha. Should the CEO apologize? No. For Dimon (and other CEO’s messaging their mistakes), the best apology is often none at all.