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How you can use an apology as an opportunity to build brand trust

- February 9, 2021 4 MIN READ
apology

The confidence to trust a person or a brand goes hand in hand with reputation. Reputation and trust are built over time, but when the proverbial hits the fan, there are real opportunities to boost brand trust. And the proverbial will hit the fan at some point in some way to all of us, writes Sue Parker founder of DARE Group. 

As humans riding a constant business roller coaster of survival, competition, overwhelm and priorities, we are not perfect or faultless in everything we do. We can mistreat others, make mistakes, be negligent, cause harm, breach trust and misjudge. Clients and suppliers resources can be invested unwisely, and advice may not always be sage.  

But how we respond after the act is significant on many levels and influences our brand and market reputation. Whether the stuff up was minuscule or mammoth, consequences are intrinsic. And those flow across the commercial and financial sides of the business, notwithstanding the impact on relationships and mental wellbeing of all involved.  

For clarity, I am not talking here about the monumental, government, institutional, or the royal commission kind of mistakes. But the issue is if we care about righting the wrong.

Why it’s hard to say sorry 

Given that humans blunder, be it, intentional or inadvertent, why is admitting and apologising like pulling a decayed tooth from a tiger? What prevents people from stepping out to take responsibility and remediation?   

Many people struggle with apologies and admitting mistakes, putting their heads in the sand like an ostrich. Denial or a determination to shift blame, save ego and skin is an unsound place to paddle.

Owning and admitting mistakes of any kind can feel like a loss of business power and a declaration of weakness. This is total nonsense as taking responsibility, and apologising can take great courage and strength. 

Studies also show entrenched non-apologists grapple with deeper psychological conflict around apologising; as it elicits real shameful feelings (either conscious or unconscious), they desperately want to avoid.  

Moving the mountain 

A genuine apology can shift mountains of despair. It can elevate self-esteem and purpose, build partnerships, foster trust and most importantly, allow business and relationships to repair, grow and succeed. 

Benefits: 

  • · Ethical – it’s the right and decent thing to do
  • · Repairs and re-establish partnerships and relationships
  • · Restores dignity and workflow
  • · Positive impact on reputation and referrals 
  • · Risk management and reduction in adverse PR
  • · Minimises conflict and gives the space for business creativity
  • · Strengthens self-respect and values which impact our personal brands
  • · Improves your wellbeing and self-esteem. 

Intention and purpose 

An expectation of forgiveness should not be the motivation for an apology. Sure, it is an ideal by-product, but other people’s response is their responsibility. An apology is about righting a wrong and contrition.

A genuine apology centres on the intention after reflection of the impact. If you cannot be authentic, then reflect on why and don’t say the words yet, because I promise you that feelings and thoughts are equally as powerful and loud as words and actions.

Think of a time when a friend or colleague was in distress, and when trying to help, you were met with an ‘I’m fine, nothing is wrong at all’. You damn well knew something was wrong, it’s as clear as day, yet the words are disparate to the sensing. 

Similar to disingenuous apologies. Notice how they are often given with a gruff  ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again’ as the person huffs off across the office. The manipulative ‘sorry’ to immediately gain favour is also transparent. As is a gushing “I’m so sorry, I was wrong” without other words and actions.

Elements of a genuine apology

There are five elements of a genuine apology. If number three (amends) is missing in action, it’s an indicator the apology may be vacuous and insincere. Like any communication skill, it takes guidance and practice.

Delivery can be in person, over the phone or via email. An email is the least ideal as it really can be a weak way out. And rarely is number three ever included in written form. Of course, a caveat is to be mindful of the recipient and the situation and appreciate how they will feel receiving the apology to reduce further harm. Be brave but respectful

1. Expression of regret

Say you are sorry in a heartfelt way, with meaningful and genuine remorse. Be motivated by and share an appreciation of the impact of the issue.

2. Admitting fault and taking responsibility 

Own up and take responsibility. Keep excuses and extenuating circumstances to a minimum. A raft of reasons weakens the apology, as it can translate as narcissistic and disingenuous.

If there are valid commercial circumstances, explain, but keep it brief and relevant unless it is a complex technical issue. Within this step, you are also sharing an appreciation of how the mistake impacted is essential. 

3. Ask how to make amends

Asking how you can make it right is the stamp of genuine remorse and emotional intelligence.

Amends may be in the form of actions, financial compensation, time support, referrals or something of value to the other person. Think of how you can help before the apology and give a few options for the party to consider if appropriate. This is where actions do speak louder than words.

4. Repentance

This repairs trust. Commit to being mindful of not repeating in the future. Be very intentional.

5. Ask forgiveness

As mentioned above, this is an ideal outcome, but not in your control. But it helps bridge confidence for both parties to become a united part of lasting solutions and relationships. Just a side here, forgiveness also has the power to move mountains, from both sides.

We are human and will continue to make mistakes. But they are fabulous opportunities to strengthen personal brand trust and market reputations genuinely.

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