WSW: The Right Apology In A Changing Environment

Dec 6, 2017

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., returns to his office after talking to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Nov. 27, 2017.
Credit J. Scott Applewhite / The Associated Press

Western Michigan University Communication Professor Keith Hearit says a good public apology acknowledges wrongdoing, includes steps to make sure the transgression doesn’t happen again, and a penance such as paying restitution. But he says most apologies from public figures, corporations and institutions are ineffective.

WMUK’s Gordon Evans spoke with Hearit, who has studied how apologies are used in crisis management. They discussed the various forms of apology offered after the recent string of sexual harassment allegations. Hearit wrote a book in 2006 called Crisis Management by Apology: Corporate Response to Allegations of Wrongdoing.

Note: The interview was recorded on Tuesday December 5, 2017 before reports of more allegations against Senator Al Franken, and reports that the Minnesota Democrat is considering resigning from the Senate.

One reason that Hearit says most apologies are ineffective is that expectations are constantly changing. He says most of the powerful men, accused of sexually inappropriate behavior have offered a rather traditional apology. Hearit says it’s also important to acknowledge this moment when more awareness is being raised about the hostile environment many women face in the workplace.

Hearit says the institutional response has been the most disappointing part of the story. He says there needs to be a separate reckoning among corporations and other places where the sexual harassment has taken place. Hearit says the corporate tendency in a crisis is to “hunker down.” But he says these various institutions haven’t acknowledged the culture that tolerated that behavior in the first place.