Apology Theater

You’ve probably noticed that lots of companies have apologized lately: Wells Fargo, Facebook, Samsung, Ivanka Trump’s company and, most recently, Evernote.

It’s simply not convincing, and usually makes matters worse. It also helps erode our trust in businesses overall.

The Evernote incident is a good guide to why apologies don’t work; it got vocal pushback on announced changes to its privacy policy that would have allowed its human employees to read user content so that they could keep tab on the company’s machine learning, the latter being a tool to see and suggest new products and services.

When it apologized, it made a point of noting its failure in communicating its plans, which violated Apology Rule #1: Never qualify your apology with some explanation or nuanced excuse.

Celebrities and politicians do it all the time — they aren’t sorry for saying or doling something wrong, but that others misheard or misjudged them — often by declaring that they’re sorry their words offended people, or that someone took offense.

Such apologies convince nobody, and often further piss people off, which is what Evernote’s statement accomplished.

Also, when it announced that it would backtrack from its announced plans, it suggested that it’ll find another way to pretty much do the same thing anyway.

Apologies that aren’t followed by binding and reliable actions are what define dysfunctional relationships between people, and our relationships with businesses are no different.

Customers — not to mention employees, investors, and other stakeholders — are desperate for accurate news, but they also want to learn the rules of the road that apply to their relationships.

What can I expect? What’s considered ‘out of bounds’ for corporate behavior? How will I know what I’m being told is true, completely, and not expertly riddled with caveats and escape clauses?

When a company says it is going to do something, can I trust it?

Apology Rule #2 is that these qualities are more important that any apology, so when Evernote announced that it will still do what it just announced it won’t do, only do it differently, it all but erased the value of its apology.

Leave it to its most expert critics to reject the entire exercise…

Read the entire essay at Linkedin