Faux-pology versus Apology

9th January, 2014 - Posted from janebeard

Governor Chris Christie just finished a nearly two-hour long press conference to respond to the news that members of his administration used lane closures to access the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee to retaliate against the mayor of that city. Here’s an article about the press conference. If you want more articles, they’re all over the place now. It’s like no one had anything to do but watch him faux-pologize.

Regardless of your politics, regardless of whether you’re blue or red or purple, there’s a lot to learn in the way Governor Christie handled what might arguably be the most important press conference of his life.

The difference between a faux-pology and an authentic apology is real. In a faux-pology, the offender regrets the impact the event had on him or herself, more than the impact it had on others. And if there is a, “but” anywhere in there, it’s no longer a real apology.

There are times in life when an apology is required. This was one of them.

“I want to apologize to the people of New Jersey,” he started. “The person who needs to apologize is me.”

In the age of Twitter, it’s no longer enough to check a box “I apologized” and then spin things as if you are the offended party. If you’re a leader of anything, you need to know the difference between an “artful” faux-pology – and an authentic apology that connects with your listener.

At one time or another, we’ll all experience the need to face an audience and apologize. As a leader, you need to be ready with the COFFE plan:

Cop to it. Whatever it was, just cop to it. Don’t use the apology to justify why you did what you did (or how it was really the people who report to you who did it and you had no idea). Be clear about what happened and move on from there.

One of the strongest parts of this apology was when he said, “The things that happen on my watch are my responsibility, both good and bad.” It could have been stronger had he said, “I am not waiting for resignations — I’m firing the people involved.”

Own it. Is Governor Christie hurt by this scandal? Undoubtedly. But there were people who were hurt directly in Fort Lee. And there are nearly 9 million residents of New Jersey.

Imagine if he’d said, “The people of New Jersey, and especially Fort Lee, have been betrayed and I am deeply sorry for that. My administration will do everything we can to regain their trust.

Fix it. Governor Christie cannot get the kids of Fort Lee NJ to their first day of school on time, nor can he restore the life of a woman for whom EMTs responded because traffic prevented their arrival.

But he could have announced, “I’ve instructed everyone in my administration that this sort of thing must never happen again, and I’m investigating if there are any similar instances of this anywhere. If so, those people will also be fired.” Instead, he said the problem he was solved now.

Focus on the future. What are your plans for whatever went wrong to never happen again? The subjects of the apology want to know. The Governor could have said, “I’m also taking steps to investigate the culture that could have allowed people to think this kind of action was permissible, because it’s not. I want to know what went wrong so we can fix it now.” He didn’t.

End strong. The Governor made a judgment call to stay in the press conference as long as it took to answer every question. Smart move. It would have been even smarter if, instead of letting the conference peter out, he’d said something along the lines of, “Again I want the people of Fort Lee to know I am deeply sorry this happen, and for the people of New Jersey to know it will never happen again.”

COFFE: Cop to it. Own it. Fix it. Focus on the future. End strong. If you’re a leader, you need to know this formula. Because in the age of Twitter, audiences smell a faux-pology a mile away.

And for times when the mistake isn’t of the magnitude of the Fort Lee event, take a look at this formula for taking the foot out of your mouth when you’ve just said the wrong thing. You’ll find a useful formula there, too.