OWN IT AND APOLOGIZE.
Time is crucial, so respond quickly and admit the mistake. Then proceed to apologize, again and again….and again. Be sincere and simple in apologizing even if the absolute truth is more complicated and blame isn’t singular.
This is one of the most critical aspects of overcoming any crisis situation. It’s also one of the hardest things to get people to execute on. We can look at any number of recent crisis situations to see an example of what not to do.
Take the United Airlines incident where a passenger was dragged off of an airplane in full view of iPhone wielding passengers. The airline’s first reaction was to pretend there was no problem. Then when the internet did what it normally does in these situations, the CEO huddled with lawyers, and doubled down with righteous indignation.
At this point, most communications professionals could picture exactly what was happening – United’s PR team was left sitting in the hallway pulling their hair out while all the executives and legal team decided that the best way forward was to never accept responsibility and to actually blame the passenger.
United was wrong in this specific example, and they were brought to the whipping post one day later. But generally speaking, the truth doesn’t matter as much as perception. If the public perceives that your organization has done something wrong, then they are going to expect some sort of apology. It’s best to just rip that bandaid off.
In crisis communications, you need a pivot point. You need something to get you off the back foot and onto the front foot. A quick and direct apology is the fastest way to get on with regular business. Suck it up, buttercup.
We all want to roast the unrepentant person, but the other side of that coin is that we all want to give people a second chance. Redemption is powerful.
So if you find yourself in a crisis situation, resist the natural instinct to explain away and avoid blame. Take responsibility and own it. It’s the difference in prolonged pain and moving on.