“The problem with repeated apologies is that the apologizer loses credibility.”
Sorry he’s sorry — again.
Comedian Norm Macdonald found himself apologizing for an apology this week after he made tone-deaf comments about the #MeToo movement, then botched his “Howard Stern Show” mea culpa with a quip about Down syndrome. He appeared on “The View” Thursday to clean up his latest PR mess.
“It’s always bad when you have to apologize for an apology,” Macdonald said. “There is a thing on Howard where there’s a recklessness in the studio.”
He’s not the only habitual apologist in Hollywood. Lena Dunham apologized last fall for having defended a “Girls” writer against a rape allegation; before that, she was sorry for saying she wished she’d had an abortion. And before that, she was sorry for assuming Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t want to have sex with her at the Met Gala.
But, as apology expert and Ohio State University professor of management Roy Lewicki pointed out to Moneyish, “the problem with repeated apologies is that the apologizer loses credibility.” Here are preventative steps apology fiends can take to be more thoughtful and less impulsive — and, most importantly, quit apologizing all the time.
Fight the urge to weigh in immediately. “Never, ever, ever post your first thoughts on any social media platform, because you wind up with raw, unchecked emotion,” etiquette expert Elaine Swann told Moneyish. “You need to check yourself before you wreck everything.” Instead, “allow things to run (their) course before you jump and make a rash decision” or take a particular stance, and think of the outcome first.
Choose silence, because sometimes it’s OK to sit out a viral hashtag. “Silence is golden, and can never be misquoted,” pop culture expert and TV host Jawn Murray said. “If you don’t say anything, there’s no story that can derive from it. If you don’t say anything, you don’t have to apologize for your previous comment or apology … Your silence can keep you out of the line of fire.” The same goes for apologies, said Lewicki: “Do you really mean it? Because if you don’t really mean it, I think silence is better.”
Phone a friend. “There’s nothing wrong with going to a close friend or confidante and saying, ‘Hey, this is what I’m thinking … What do you think?’” said Swann. But choose someone unafraid to tell you the truth: Many “gravitate toward people who make them feel good all the time,” and you need someone who will give it to you straight. After all, surrounding yourself with yes-women is “how you end up on the red carpet wearing a swan dress,” Swann quipped. Take it one step further and find an “accountability partner,” she added, giving them license to correct you when they notice your problematic behavior.
Check your previous statements. Avoid looking like a hypocrite by ensuring “whatever you say doesn’t contradict a stance you’ve taken publicly in the past,” Murray said, citing Dunham’s track record of front-facing feminism as an example. “At this point … I don’t think anybody would really take her seriously when she jumps on and advocates for other women’s causes and positions. It’s definitely eroding her credibility, because what she has said with her actions is, ‘I’m pro-woman — unless it involves a man directly related to me.’”
Don’t apologize unless you mean it. “If you continue to apologize for doing something wrong,” said Lewicki, “either the apology is hollow, or you’re not working on any kind of meaningful behavior change.” To see if apologies have become a “crutch” or a “verbal tic,” said “Sorry About That: The Language of the Public Apology” author Edwin Battistella, try self-monitoring your apologies or recording yourself in conversation.
“An apology should be an ethical exploration of something, not a reflexive get-out-of-trouble free card,” said Battistella, a professor at Southern Oregon University. “What I try and do is apologize less so that when I actually apologize, I mean it.” When you do apologize, Battistella added, make a decision to be a different person in the future.
Think about why you’re constantly apologizing. “Somebody who consistently breaks trust and then apologizes for it is demonstrating a fair amount of lack of impulse control or lack of personal control,” Lewicki said. “If you really want to not do that anymore, you’ve got to figure out why you’re doing these crazy things to begin with.” If you’re just apologizing because you said stupid things, added Battistella, “the answer is not to say stupid things.”
This story was originally published Nov. 22, 2017, and has been updated.
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