JS Tip 448: The Waste of an Apology

From the Communication Workshops: The Waste of an Apology

We’ve been talking about apologies.

Last week, we talked about how some people don’t apologize at all (to their detriment).

This week, we’ll talk about how some people apologize too much.

We identified two types of apologies:

  • An apology of empathy: “I’m sorry this happened.” It identifies with the other person’s pain. It goes a long way in repairing broken bridges.

    An apology of responsibility: “I’m sorry we made a mistake.” This demonstrates honesty and accountability when you’re at fault.

Let’s set up a situation: The new software you bought doesn’t do what it promised. You call customer support.

Within the first seconds of the conversation, the customer-support person apologizes: “I’m sorry this happened.” Twice. Three times. You’re pretty sure this was part of the customer-service person’s training. 

Wait a minute.

A sincere apology of empathy is appropriate any time, but as it’s repeated, it becomes insincere and cheapens the discussion. In fact, it frustrates you, the customer, because the customer-support person should be addressing responsibility.

What should this “address of responsibility” include? Three things:



  1. An acceptance of responsibility.
  2. An attempt at redress (to exceed the customer’s expectations).
  3. A plan to ensure the mistake won’t happen again.

Notice how this requires significant decision-making authority given to the customer-service person. (Exceptional organizations do this.)

What do you think? Let us know. We love this stuff. 

Mark Brooks