How to say sorry with­out dig­ging a deeper hole


THERE’S an art to a pub­lic apol­ogy.

Kiwi au­thor Bob Selden says the right words can make a world of dif­fer­ence.

He has ex­plored how lead­ers from all fields should be aware how their words fil­ter down – and how dam­ag­ing a poorly cho­sen word could be.

The pub­lic apol­o­gy­was the clas­sic ex­am­ple of where lead­ers could get it wrong, or spec­tac­u­larly right, and Selden gave two ex­am­ples.

Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern’s heart­felt words over the mur­der of Bri­tish back­packer Grace Mil­lane made a near per­fect pub­lic apol­ogy, he said.

‘‘From the Ki­wis I have spo­ken to, there is this over­whelm­ing sense of hurt and shame that this has hap­pened in our coun­try, a place that prides it­self on our hos­pi­tal­ity, on our man­aak­i­tanga, es­pe­cially to those who are vis­it­ing our shores,’’ Ardern said.

‘‘So on be­half of New Zealand, I want to apol­o­gise to Grace’s fam­ily – your daugh­ter should have been safe here, and she wasn’t, and I’m sorry for that.’’

Any­one need­ing to make an apol­ogy should fol­low Ardern’s lead and shoot from the hip and the heart, Selden said.

In stark con­trast, the apol­ogy by Welling­ton prop­erty man­agers Quinovic, af­ter an ill­judged ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign, was a fail­ure.

The ad­verts in­cluded slo­gans such as ‘‘Cheers to you! Are you fi­nanc­ing your ten­ant’s so­cial life?’’ and ‘‘Afraid to man up? We aren’t . . . 99.6 per cent of our ten­ants pay on time or a day early.’’

Pub­lic out­rage soared over the de­pic­tion of ten­ants as dead­beats, with Poly­ne­sian and Ma¯ori ac­tors por­tray­ing them.

‘‘The mes­sage­was not at all in­tended to be of­fen­sive to­wards ten­ants. Quinovic Te Aro highly val­ues its ten­ants and once again we of­fer our sin­cere apolo­gies for any of­fence this may have caused,’’ Quinovic said.

The com­pany made the mis­take of of­fer­ing an apol­ogy, and say­ing it was sin­cere, Selden said.

‘‘You’ve shot your­self in the foot – you’ve just re­minded ev­ery­body you’ve re­cently done some­thing that made you seem un­trust­wor­thy. You don’t want that . . . Ki­wis have pretty good bull.... de­tec­tors.’’

Bob Selden: Ki­wis are good at de­tect­ing BS.

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