Crisis Communications Sorry Cartoon 18 May

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

May 18th, 2020

In a crisis, if your organisation is in the wrong, there will be a point where a decision has to be made: to apologise or not to apologise.

I’m a firm in saying ‘sorry’ as soon as possible.

But is it better just to continue on and not show ‘weakness’ to prove you’re an in total control of the situation? This can be summed up as the ‘Never apologise, never explain’ school.

In the coronavirus crisis (sorry, there are no other crises to talk about), there have been too radically different approaches by the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the French President Emmanuel Macron to this apology issue.

Mr Johnson and his team offer explanations; many are now saying they are not explanations just bluster. There are definitely mixed messages which break every rule of crisis management.

The daily press conferences held by the government offer few answers, perhaps because there are few answers. This begs the questions: “why have them?” If you’ve got nothing to say, say nothing.

Over the Channel, in mid-April, the French President Emmanuel Marcon caused a shock when he admitted that mistakes had been made and, in effect, apologised. The result, his popularity ratings, which had been bumbling at an all-time low, suddenly went up.

And Mr Johnson. Well, the opposition have a personable new leader in Sir Kier Starmer, a lawyer and former Cabinet member in the Labour government, who is asking searching questions without seeming to be negative. And the PM’s ratings are falling.

If you are in a crisis, I believe you should apologise early. (Do check it with the lawyers first.) But what if you have done nothing wrong? Well, if you’re in a crisis, you have done something wrong. And you will get respect and credibility for being humble.

But what do Mr Johnson and Mr Macron have to apologise for? Perhaps having the highest death rates in Europe might be a start.

Sorry, to say this Boris, but maybe ‘sorry’ should no longer be the hardest word.

Have a good week


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