Creative Leadership

Why You Should Master the Art of the Apology

Saturday night Kathleen and I “pre-celebrated” Mother’s Day at a nice Italian restaurant with our daughter Kelsey. Kelsey’s husband Chris is on the national Broadway tour of “Sister Act” and our other daughter Bailey lives in New York City so it was just us three. We were on our way to attend the screening of a new situation comedy produced by a friend, so we made early dinner reservations.

As a result, we were the first people to be seated, and that’s when the trouble began.

We ordered, and then waited, and waited, and waited for our food. We started noticing that other groups who had arrived long after us, were not only being served, but finishing their meal and leaving.

When we asked the waitress, she said, “Everybody just came in at once” (not true) and your meal is on it’s way.” But we continued to wait, as other people finished and left.

Finally the meal came, and we were barely able to make our scheduled screening. When we asked the waitress and eventually the manager about it, neither apologized. They kept to the “Everyone came in at once” story, which was obviously not true – and even if it was, it’s still a sign of poor management. Eventually the manager brought us a free desert when he realized that we were so concerned about getting out on time.

When he served it, he said, “I’m sorry you felt slighted.” No apology. He was “sorry” that WE felt we weren’t served well. He never took responsibility and never explained the problem.

It’s called a “non apology” and you hear politicians, celebrities, and business leaders make them all the time. They never actually admit they did anything wrong, and are only sorry that YOU were offended – not that they actually offended anyone or made a mistake themselves.

Trust me – people notice. A sincere, genuine apology goes a long way. Most people will forgive and forget. Had the restaurant manager made a real apology, I would have gladly accepted it and given them another try. But for him to make such a shallow, insincere gesture turned us completely off.

There are plenty of nice restaurants in Los Angeles. I don’t need to visit there again.

Have you ever been the recipient of a non-apology? How did it feel?

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  1. As a teacher of mine once said: “I’m sorry but I don’t apologise” (he was notorious for statements like this, other gems including “Are you deaf?” yelled at a pupil with hearing aids and “Blackboards are not for writing on” following a bout of graffiti).

  2. Had the uncomfortable experience of 2 waitresses coming to blows at my table arguing that neither was responsible to see that I have silverware and napkin. Geesh!

  3. I would not in any way, shape or form visit that restaurant again. I would even consider, after cooling off some, writing a letter to the manager explaining their reaction, why it turned you off and what he needs to do to fix things. is that the wrong approach? As for me: I learned long time ago because of the number of mistakes I make, it is easier to apologize. 🙂

  4. Amen, Phil! At the beginning of our marriage, my husband used to give the “I’m sorry you felt…” apologies. It took many repeats but finally he realized that it is a “non-apology”.

  5. What you endured happens, unfortunately, all too often. What’s even more unfortunate is that leadership can’t quantify lost business-only results, aka profits. How many service-oriented businesses-a restaurant in this case-are even willing to admit that inexcusable customer service is their Achilles heel, the sole reason for lost business-in this case, yours?

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