By James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC; APR, Fellow PRSA; BEPS Emeritus
Obtaining forgiveness is a process. The power of that process is diluted when it appears obvious that the perpetrator has no particular concept of or organized intention to apologize.
Okay, okay, okay… I used the “A” word. But in my experience, apology is the atomic energy of empathy and is always more about what is done rather than what is said. The nine steps below are absolutely required to be successful in achieving forgiveness from the victims that are created in crisis situations. Yes, every single step. The sooner all nine are undertaken, the sooner things will start to get better and bad things will start to stop happening.
Seeking forgiveness is society’s requirement for relationship, trust and credibility restoration. Adverse situations (like the ones Wells Fargo and United Airlines have themselves in) that use this template are remediated faster, cost a lot less, are controversial for much shorter periods of time, suffer less litigation and help the victims come to closure more quickly. Obtaining forgiveness involves completing the nine steps below. To achieve success in the shortest possible time, these steps should be completed as quickly as possible: like start them all today. Skip a step or be insincere and the process will be incomplete and fundamentally fail.
Step #1 Candor: Outward recognition, through promptly verbalized public acknowledgement, that a problem exists; that people or groups of people, the environment, or the public trust are affected; and that something will be promptly done to remediate the situation.
Step #2 Extreme Empathy/Apology: Verbalized or written statement of personal regret, remorse and sorrow, acknowledging personal responsibility for having injured, insulted, failed or wronged another; humbly asking for forgiveness in exchange for more appropriate future behavior and to make amends in return.
Step #3 Explanation (no matter how silly, stupid or embarrassing the problem-causing error was): Promptly and briefly explain why the problem occurred and the known underlying reasons or behaviors that led to the situation (even if you have only partial, early information).
Step #4 Affirmation: Talk about what you’ve learned from the situation and how it will influence your future behavior. Unconditionally commit to regularly report additional information until it is all out or until no public interest remains.
Step #5 Declaration: A public commitment and discussion of specific, positive steps to be taken to conclusively address the issues and resolve the situation.
Step #6 Contrition: The continuing verbalization of regret, empathy, sympathy, even embarrassment. Take appropriate responsibility for having allowed the situation to occur in the first place, whether by omission, commission, accident or negligence.
Step #7 Consultation: Promptly ask for help and counsel from victims, government, the community of origin, independent observers and even from your opponents. Directly involve and request the participation of those most directly affected to help develop more permanent solutions, more acceptable behaviors and to design principles and approaches that will preclude similar problems from reoccurring.
Step #8 Commitment: Publicly set your goals at zero: zero errors, zero defects, zero dumb decisions and zero problems. Publicly promise that, to the best of your ability, situations like this will be permanently prevented.
Step #9 Restitution: Find a way to quickly pay the price. Make or require restitution. Go beyond community and victim expectations and what would be required under normal circumstances to remediate the problem.
Just a reminder, when faced with a list of this magnitude, there’s a tendency to say, “Well, let’s try steps three, five and seven and see how it goes…”. I guarantee it will go badly. The nine steps shared above will ultimately be undertaken. Why not just get to it right now?
Forgiveness requires that you be all-in to get it done. Until you are, without any education, whatsoever, those who have been harmed will understand that you have yet to learn how to be an honorable company. It’s called rebuilding trust and trust is the absolute antidote to the fear of future harm.
Tell people what you’re doing, the steps you’re going to be taking (all of them!) and then get on it.