Delivering Effective and Ineffective Apologies

During the past year, we have tested a broad range of apologies from celebrities, sports figures, political figures and corporate executives.


Among the apologies that we tested included apologies by Governor Mark Sanford, Toyota USA President Jim Lentz, David Letterman, Chris Brown, John Mayer and Tiger Woods.


After reviewing the results of our studies, which included our on-line dial testing results, we compiled the following observations regarding what contributes to effective and ineffective apologies relative to the levels of perceived sincerity.

Statements that decrease levels of perceived sincerity:


·     Using vague terms (Letterman called his affairs “terrible things” and “creepy  stuff”)

·     Mentioning your our fame and fortune (Tiger stated that he didnt have to go far to find people to sleep with due to his fame)

·     Stating that you broke your morals and values (I think viewers feel apologizers dont have values)

·     Admitting to being inconsiderate (stating that you didnt think about the impact your actions would have on people around you)

·     Speculating about future/making long-term promises (Mayer says he completely quits the “media game”)

·     Asking for forgiveness

·     Mentioning aspects of your personality (Sanford says hes a “bottom-line kind of guy” and Mayer describes himself as “clever”)


Statements that increase levels of perceived sincerity:

·     Admitting faults/ wrongdoings/ problems

·     Accepting blame/responsibility

·     Speaking about people that you let down and protecting supporters (especially family members)

·     Using “feeling” or words that describe how you feel (John Mayer says “it feels terrible”; Tiger says he felt “entitled”; Chris Brown says he “wishes”)

·     Stating facts/telling story (Letterman gave a factual account of events prior to offering his apology)

·     Stating that there is no excuse for what happened

·     Stating that you know it will be hard to gain back trust and recover from the incident

·     Outlining a plan for regaining trust and recovering from the incident


While the above statements may increase or decrease perceptions of sincerity, at the end of the day, the most effective apology is one that doesnt have to be delivered.