You may have to say sorry, even in situations where you weren’t in the wrong
Updated: October 9, 2017
Oh boy, they’ve stepped in it.
Beauty brand Dove has apologized profusely after posting a video ad on its Facebook page that was widely deemed racially insensitive. The video featured a black woman morphing into a white female and then an Asian woman and was taken down after widespread social media backlash. “The short video was intended to convey that Dove body wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong,” a spokesperson for Dove parent Unilever told the Wall Street Journal. “We apologize deeply and sincerely for the offense that it has caused and do not condone any activity or imagery that insults any audience.”
The personal care label, previously widely lauded for the use of diverse imagery in its advertising, isn’t the only big name to have issued a mea culpa over the weekend. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said sorry—sort of?—again over the weekend for disparaging a female reporter over a sports-related question over her sex. He had previously apologized for disrespecting Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodriguez and even pinned a Rosie the Riveter button on a hat he wore enroute to a game “It was a lesson learned for me this whole week,” he said Sunday. “My sarcasm trying to give somebody kind of a compliment turned in ways I never would have even imagined. “
When it comes to begging pardon, Dove and Newton are in good company. Snap chief executive Evan Spiegel came under fire this past spring when he was alleged in a lawsuit to have called India a “poor country,” a claim he denies. Kim Kardashian faced the brickbats in 2012 after calling Indian food “disgusting” on an episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” She later apologized, clarifying that she could distinguish between Indian food and Indian people. Even the erudite Oprah Winfrey came under fire in the 1990s when, during the mad cow disease scare, she exclaimed that claims made by a rancher on her show had “stopped me cold from eating another hamburger!” Winfrey was sued for defamation by the beef lobby, though she won.
Should you find yourself in a similar situation — having said something, or being accused of saying something, that might have offended your colleagues or others — here’s what to do.
In most cases, a quick sincere apology will suffice. “Say you misspoke or that you didn’t mean the words to come out as harshly as you did,” says Barbara Pachter, the workplace etiquette expert and author of “The Communications Clinic.” “We all misspeak [especially when] we get nervous.”
If your case is like Spiegel’s and you didn’t say something offensive, “you don’t really have anything to apologize for,” she says. “Maybe you apologize if it’s become a big issue, but also say that there’s no reality to my comments.”
Sometimes though, someone can be so offended that a quick fix won’t do. If that’s the case, the communications expert recommends taking the person aside and clarifying that this offense was not your intent. “Tell the person you value the relationship and that you’ll do better” next time, Pachter says.
You also may need to engage in other workplace activities that actually benefit others. Take a peg from Oprah’s much-touted charity work by helping a busy colleague out or doing a regular coffee run. “Oprah’s certainly recovered,” says Pachter, noting that almost no one recalls the beef scandal today. “But then she also a lot of good for the world and that turns the publicity around.”
This story was updated on October 9 2017 with news of Cam Newton and Dove’s respective apologies.
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