Because tone-deaf apologies have become common, it might be easy to dismiss Spiegel’s non-apology, given that an “I’m sorry” no longer means all that much anyway. An apology can still send a powerful message and produce hugely beneficial outcomes, given four conditions:
• The organization and its leaders truly have something to apologize for. • The senior-most leader genuinely and sincerely is sorry. • He or she apologizes from the heart, not from a script. • The apology is conveyed through more than one channel.
For proof that apologies can be the right business move, look to MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, whose recent apology for inappropriate remarks about former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s family has produced at least as much attention as the original transgression—if not more. On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Romney to address the controversy. Romney’s answer: “I recognize that people make mistakes, and the folks at MSNBC made a big mistake. They’ve apologized for it. That’s all can you ask for. I am going to move on from that. I am sure they want to move on from it. Look, I’ve made plenty of mistakes myself. They’ve apologized for this. You know, I think we can go on from there.” When Wallace pressed Romney, he added, “I think it’s a heartfelt apology. I think for that reason, we hold no ill will whatsoever.” Harris-Perry’s apology took the form of multiple tweets, an on-air, no-holds-barred segment at the top of her show in which she took responsibility and acknowledged the wrongness of the offending segment, and a post on the MSNBC site that included a statement, the tweets, and the video. As NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen pointed out in a tweet: