The lost art of the letter of apology
So whether you’re a crazed, criminal mastermind whose diabolical scheme to rule the free world has turned to dust because of a meddling caped crusader or a mild mannered billing clerk who has overcharged a client, “sorry” can be the hardest word to say. It’s even harder to write!
So how do we convey feelings of remorse or at least accept culpability without, to be blunt, landing yourself and possibly your company in the crapper. The long held position in customer service and complaints departments has been to say anything but never say you’re sorry. Saying you’re sorry, contends the quasi-legal intelligentsia, is an admission of guilt and or wrongdoing that rolls out the red carpet for the aggrieved to stroll into nearest court of law and help themselves to unfeasible amounts of money. While Line & Length would dearly love to offer advice along the lines of “hey if you’re sorry and you know it just say so, why can’t we all just get along” before our legal department gets established, we probably shouldn’t. If you are working for or representing an insurance company it may be best to clam up but under many other circumstances let us look towards Britain’s the House of Lords (circa 2006) for wisdom (Ed. Oh, you’re serious, carry on):
Part 1, subsection 2 of the amended Compensation Bill states:
an apology, an offer of treatment or other redress, shall not of itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty.
In fact, it is widely acknowledged that while a well-timed “I’m sorry” may not always soothe as a balm on the sensitive skin of the aggrieved, it can often diffuse potentially explosive situations. So, if minds have been set on writing a mea culpa, the next question is what guidelines should I keep in mind? Start here:
1) Avoid what some may agree is the heavily jargoned legally safe apology. Frankly, the faint whiff of insincerity hangs over these sorts of emails/letters and it turns clients/customers off their lunch and you. Better not to apologise at all because a blank email featuring a lone smiley face would be less offensive.
2) That said, if you are bent on issuing a non-apology you could do worse than feature the following well-worn favourites from politicians, doctors, captains of industry and the like the world over:
- “I’m sorry this happened to you…”
- “These are regrettable circumstances…”
- “Mistakes were made…”
- “I wanted to acknowledge fault where such acknowledgment is appropriate." Gareth Evans
3) Suggest that steps will be taken to ensure there is no repetition of the misdeeds or behaviour that caused the problem.
4) A little remorse, goes a long way so do extend your sympathies. Remember the old saying, “they key is sincerity, once you can fake that, you’ve got it made”. If you can’t act, do not fake it.
5) If all else fails, why not use a “Jake Blues”
It is regrettable that the mandatory word count for this topic has been exceeded because there is more to reveal on the topic. In future, steps will be taken by the editor (Ed. what??) to ensure that none of us revisit these unfortunate circumstances.
The damage control unit
Line & Length