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 on risky investments this quarter. On NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Dimon dealt with the mistake saying the bank was “dead wrong,” “sloppy,” and “stupid.” What he has not said is “I’m sorry.”
With experience helping dozens of companies communicate during crises, I know there’s a subtle, but important difference between admitting you made a mistake and actually apologizing for it. 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, and to be humble and human. But they often respond negatively to the words “I’m sorry.”
Some people see “I’m sorry” as sign of weakness. Others just don’t believe the person saying it. And still others don’t accept it unless the apologizer shows what he or she is doing to address it. Simply put, the words “I’m sorry” don’t come across as the language of a leader.