UPDATE: Nov. 1, 2012: When a judge ordered Apple to apologize to Samsung for claiming it copied Apple's designs, Apple responded with a statement that seemed so unapologetic that the
judge ordered a re-do: "I’m at a loss that a company such as Apple would do this … That is a plain breach of the order," Bloomberg reports.
Regardless of Apple's true intents, however, Ryan Fehr, assistant professor of management at the University of Washington, whose PhD is in psychology, says that a court-ordered apology makes one appear insincere from the get-go:
"One of the most important components of an apology is its sincerity," Fehr said. "To be effective, an apology must be seen as emanating from genuine remorse and concern for the well-being of the victimized party or group.
"Any apology issued as a response to a court order is likely to be missing this sincerity component. Even if the offender was sincere, the victim could easily perceive the apology as an insincere response to external pressure. … It's the equivalent of a parent forcing one child to apologize to another for a schoolyard quarrel. … If a court wished to encourage apologies, a more effective path would be through mediation."
Lauren Bloom, author of "The Art of the Apology," keeps tabs on public apologies as an attorney and business ethics expert. Here, she shares some of her favorite examples of apologies done right (and a few that completely missed the mark):
Hugh Grant apologized for conduct with a prostitute on The Tonight Show two years ago: "His public persona sets up nicely for apologizing," Bloom said. "He often portrays a likeable, bumbling guy, so it was very easy to forgive him when he quickly and straightforwardly apologized. And then he laid low long enough so we could decide we missed him."
Tiger Woods apologized for extramarital affairs two years ago. "Sports figures have a particularly difficult time. He never sought out the limelight. Yes, it was awkward and staged and difficult to watch, but I believed he meant it. I gave him higher marks than a lot of people."
David Letterman apologized to his wife and staff on the air for sexual relationships with staff members in 2009. "We want to believe celebrities are nice people," Bloom said. "We want to know that he won't do it again and that he didn't hurt his spouse too much." He also used humor, joking that when he got in his car that morning "even the navigation lady wasn’t speaking to me.”
Johnson & Johnson set the standard for corporate apologies in 1982, Bloom said, when a murderer added 65 milligrams of cyanide to some Tylenol capsules. The company destroyed 31 million capsules at a cost of $100 million and the CEO took responsibility in ads.
Johnson & Johnson nailed it again in December when the company ran an ad after it pulled OB tampons from the shelf without realizing how upset loyal customers would be. "It's not an easy product to talk about," Bloom said. "But they ran an ad with a cute guy singing at a grand piano on the beach, writing names in rose petals … and they put the product back on the market."
Dominos faced criticism of crust that is most often compared to cardboard head on, admitted it was making bad pizza, apologized, and introduced a new recipe in 2009 — a gutsy move that worked, Bloom said.
BP blew it after the oil spill, Bloom said. They took responsibility immediately, but didn't apologize for weeks.
Exxon also waited too long after the Valdez spill, Bloom said. "I still will not buy Exxon gas, because they still haven't really fixed the problems they caused in the community."