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August 21, 2013

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s Apology to Employees is Pathetic

It took AOL CEO Tim Armstrong 4 days to apologize for the firing of an employee in front of 1,000 other employees. 

One has to wonder what took so long.  I can only hope he realized the day of the incident that what he did was egregious.  Given the delayed response, I’m not so sure.

Which makes me think about the dialogue inside AOL.  Here are my thoughts about what might have happened (expletives have been removed):

Senior leader to Tim on Monday: “You need to apologize to Abel for what happened.”

Tim: “For what?  What he did was wrong.  He was doing something I specifically asked him not to do.  He brought this on himself.”

Senior leader: “The firing is all over the media and on social media; employees are talking about it, too.  You need to apologize.”

Tim:  “Forget it.  My job is to make the best decisions on behalf of the company.”

Senior leader: “Let me show you some of the coverage, and the issue is not going away.”

Tim, after reviewing the materials: “Draft something for me and I’ll think about it.”

Who knows what really happened, but having been part of many of these conversations, there might be some truth to my fictitious conversation above.

Five steps to apologize the right way

What are some strategies to use to apologize effectively?  Here are the makings of a genuine and caring apology:

  1. Pick the right time to apologize – Sooner is usually better.  Ensure your mood elevator is neutral to positive.  A delay allows hurt feeling to simmer and often escalate.
  2. Determine what went wrong – Figure out whether you did something wrong or offended someone.  Apologizing just for the result of your behavior and not taking responsibility (see the next step) could cause an impasse.
  3. Take responsibility – Own your mistake.  Be accountable for what you did wrong.  No excuses.  Anything that resembles an excuse lessens your apology.
  4. Acknowledge the result of your behavior – One way to say this is, “I’m sorry I did _________, which resulted in _________.”
  5. Ask for forgiveness and make it right – Talk about how you’ll fix things and follow through.  If you’re not sure how to make it right, ask: “How can I make this up to you?”

Once you’ve followed the 5 steps above, resist the urge to keep talking.  Chances are you will say something that will take away from what you’ve already said.  Attention extroverts: This means you! You’re especially prone to sabotage yourself if you keep talking.

Like any effective communication, you need to plan. Writing the apology out can be helpful to many of us.

And if you’re at all concerned about how the apology will go, practice with someone you trust.

If your apology doesn’t go well, thank the person for listening, and leave the door open for them to come back to you, or for you to come back to them.

Who might you need to apologize to?

-          David Grossman


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Tag(s): Leadership

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