Let me start with an apology. I’m sorry this week’s column isn’t very funny. Or very interesting. Or very relevant. I really wanted to write a truly terrific column for you, but I decided to take a nap instead, and by the time I woke up, there wasn’t sufficient time to do anything but throw together a bunch of slapdash nonsense, like this apology.
Which makes me think I should apologize for my apology. Clearly, it wasn’t very heartfelt, and I obviously don’t feel a bit of regret, nor do I expect any negative repercussion from making such a lousy apology, nor do I plan to amend my ways so that I won’t have to make such feeble apologies when I really have something to apologize for, which is often.
I just realized — if I make any more apologies, you’ll think I’m the CEO of a major corporation. And who could blame you? With the possible exception of a certain corpulent governor of a minor East Coast state, the real apology machines today are our nation’s business leaders.
Am I right, or am I right? Industrial production may be sluggish. The stock market may be slogging. But the apology machine is running full-tilt boogie, 24/7/365.
(I should pause now to apologize to New Jersey for the snide comment made two paragraphs earlier, but I’ve run out of mock shame, so the residents of the Garden State will just have to apologize to each other.)
Our current case of apology-mania was not clear to me until I read “Too Many Sorry Excuses for Apology,” a recent Andrew Ross Sorkin article in The New York Times.
As Sorkin writes, “Everyone is so apologetic. It seems like just about every day a chief executive, politician or other prominent figure is apologizing for something.”
Like Gregg W. Steinhafel, the CEO of Target, who recently made a very public apology for a very nasty security breach that made the personal credit card data of as many as 110 million customers instantly available to computer fraudsters around the globe.
Exactly how many people actually have suffered financial losses from this techno boo-boo, we don’t know, but even if no one’s credit gets dinged, isn’t it amazing that Target actually has 110 million customers? I thought you were the only person who couldn’t resist a Pink Floyd Tee & Pants Sleep Set, $21.24 on clearance, or went gaga over the Be Amazing Tangerine And Fresh Bergamont Reed Diffuser, $12.79, in store only.
Of course, I don’t know how many people actually heard Steinhafel’s apology, since so much of the apology space has been occupied lately by that serial apologist Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase.
No question Dimon has plenty to apologize for, including a trading loss that cost the bank some $6 billion simoleons and a $13 billion payment to the government to settle problems with the situation we like to call “mortgages-gone-wild.” The question is: Is Dimon really sorry, or is he just pretending to be sorry?
“The art of the apology has become a carefully choreographed dance,” Sorkin writes. “Say you are sorry, show vulnerability, tell everyone you are ‘taking responsibility,’ and then end with, ‘I hope to put this all behind me.'”
If you are the kind of cynic who questions the sincerity of these apologies, you are not alone. And if you think that making an apology actually solves any problems, you are not only totally alone but kind of nuts, too.
Apologies are supposed to be the beginning of a corrective process, not the end. Unless these corporate apologists actually make real changes in the companies they rule, all they are doing is making empty gestures, which are embarrassing to them and insulting to us.
At least, we know that Dimon is truly sorry for the billions lost by his bank. In his recent salary review, Dimon received only a paltry $20 million in annual compensation for 2013, a measly 74 percent increase over the $11.5 million he made in 2012.
As for me and thee, the magic of an apology doesn’t always work out quite as well as it does for those in the upper echelon of the org chart. That’s why I recommend that the next time you screw up, stick with your usual response — blame someone else for the mistake.
If that doesn’t work, then you can say you’re sorry. Either that, or move to New Jersey.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.