I made a bit of a blunder in an email during the week. It was nothing catastrophic – the accidental omission of the word ‘NOT’ meant that some people picked up the wrong meaning. So I had to send another email clarifying things and to …apologise. The composition of any written confession should be done carefully. Having thought about it for a while, I began with:
Apologies for any confusion..
This is a classic office email apology. It may look like I’m being contrite but read it again as there are some details that should be noted.
- Apologies – Note the complete lack of any personal pronouns. Effectively, I’m saying that apologies exist and may or may not have come from me. They’ve been issued and are now floating around in the air.
- For any confusion – Now I’m saying that those who read the last email are confused. Not necessarily by me. But I acknowledge that there may be some confusion.
This is not just done to save face. It’s also for the benefit of the apologees. If I said “I’m really sorry”, it would make the reader think that I was beating myself up over the situation, perhaps crying quietly. “I regret” would indicate that I had an affair with a dancer.
Speaking of which, take Tiger Woods (statistically some of you may already have). By this stage, Tiger will have completed his first round at the US Masters golf tournament. I’m not into golf at this stage, but I expect I shall eventually aspire to play it when I’ve run out of other things to say in my life.
One thing you can’t deny about golf is its integrity. Once he was caught, Tiger’s honesty has been impressive both at the press conference in February and also last weekend. His language was direct and very personal: I have let my wife and family down. I have disappointed my fans. I like your top. I am going to text you.
While the directness of Tiger’s apology is praiseworthy, it is also quite wasteful. The apology was given to people who may not even need one. He could have given a conditional apology which is only issued to people who are upset by what he has done. A conditional apology is given by someone who is absolutely flabbergasted that he has caused offence.
For example, the Pope’s personal preacher Fr. Cantalamessa, said a few words at Good Friday Mass last weekend. He compared accusations against the Pope to some of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism. (I don’t know whether the Holy See holds ‘Lessons Learned’ meetings – probably not. If they did, one can imagine both Rev. Cantalamessa and the Pope agreeing to add ‘Comparing accusations against the Pope to Anti-Semitism’ to the ‘Don’t Go There’ list.)
Fr. Cantalamessa did apologise afterwards, but he used the ‘if’ trick, to indicate that he was not entirely at fault. His statement was along the lines of: ‘If I have offended anyone’ In other words, if someone was misguided enough to be offended at what was said, then theoretically, an apology was available for them to claim. Provided of course they had filled out the correct paperwork.
Experts in Apologology identify another type of contrition known as the ‘Fianna Fail’, which is not an apology at all in the strictest sense of the word. A Fianna Fail is used to communicate the following:
- You feel sorry that something bad has happened but you had nothing to do with it.
- Even though you were in charge when all the mistakes were being made, no one else saw the mistake either so it’s no one’s fault.
An extreme version of the Fianna Fail is the Willie O’Dea Apology. Not only is he not sorry, but you’re a bollox.
If Willie O’Dea had done what Tiger had done, the press conference would sound like this:
Of course, I got off with a good few of dem, and paid a heavy price but ye Blue-Shirts are at it as well.
The advent of the technology age and call centres has led to the evolution of the Virtual Sorry – typically taking the following form: We are sorry for the delay. Your call is important to us. Your call will be answered in rotation. Because the computer has apologised, eventually when the human being gets on the line, they don’t feel the need to say sorry. SorryTec has taken all the blame. Now Your Call is as Important to them as the bit of skin that’s slightly peeling at the edge of their fingernail. It’s true, your call is still In Rotation. But only in the sense that the operator is making the rotating finger gesture to indicate to the girl next to him that you are mental as you rant that the Broadband is down AGAIN.
One final trick is to use a synonym of the word sorry which is so obscure that no one knows what it means. And if that doesn’t work for you, then I am truly compunctious.
Note: a number of readers have asked me how last weekend’s Parent-Off went. (see Cork News #28). I’m happy to say it all went swimmingly. The food was great – thanks Isaacs – and everyone Chatted Away Fine. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.