Sincerity matters especially when you’re apologizing. Last week during a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Cal Thomas, a conservative, syndicated newspaper columnist, took a shot at MSNBC Anchor Rachel Maddow calling her: “the best argument in favor of her parents using contraception.” To his credit, Thomas personally apologized to Maddow by the next day. Apparently, his apology was sincere and heartfelt because Maddow announced on air, “He didn't mean it, and he wished he hadn't said it. I completely believe his apology. I completely accept his apology.”
Mistake made. Apology tendered sincerely and right away. Case closed.
What happens when you aren’t sincere? Ask Rush Limbaugh. When he called Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” a firestorm of anger at how he characterized her hit him right where it hurts, in the pocketbook. He didn’t apologize right away; it took four days. So instead of the apology looking heartfelt and sincere, it looked like he was trying to stave off losing advertising dollars. Then he compounded the problem because when he finally did apologize, he released his apology in a statement on his web site.
Sincerity is owning your mistake right away like Thomas; not waiting four days.
Sincerity is personally apologizing, not issuing a statement without talking directly to the person.
Even Thomas saw through Limbaugh’s first apology. “The first apology by Rush Limbaugh, posted on his website over the weekend, sounded forced, qualified, almost defensive.” Apparently Limbaugh realized the first attempt failed because two days later he tried again. This time he did it on his Monday radio program and the apology sounded sincere.
The problem for Limbaugh is the insincerity of the first apology tarnishes the sincerity of the second apology. It’s simply not as believable as it would have been if he’d got it right the first time.
Sincerity matters because it is by being sincere that you are believable and people trust you. But when you’re insincere, not only don’t they believe you at the time, regaining their belief—their trust—later on is much harder.
Thomas handled his mistake the right way. A sincere apology offered immediately and the storm quickly died down. Limbaugh didn’t, and the storm is still swirling.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."