The Anatomy of an Apology

Education & Training with Sommers Communication


"Everyone makes mistakes, but it's how you handle yourself after you've make the mistake that will give you the reputation for being a mouse or a  man."

The Likeability Guy | Bob Sommers

It Was A Busy Time

Years ago I was responsible for running the largest customer service training company in the country, Sommers Communication, Inc.  We were presenting thousands of workshops every year throughout the country and in order to keep up with demand, I had to quickly interview, hire and train dozens of professional speakers.

Our workshops were extremely successful, thanks to the quality of our speakers and our evaluation process. After each program, the audience filled out an evaluation, and the speaker was responsible for sending the evaluations back to our office in Atlanta using overnight mail.


With over two dozens professional speakers on staff, and 2,000 seminars evaluated, their scores averaged 4.92 on a scale of 1-5. If you know anything about the public speaking business, you know that these numbers are phenomenal.

We also paid each speaker a substantial bonus for every program where they received an evaluation score of 4.8 or better. This is where the trouble began.

After each program I made it a point to talk to the person responsible for hiring us to speak to their staff. Almost without exception they would go on and on about how funny and inspirational the speaker was, and how impressed they were with the quality of the material presented. The problem was it happened, “almost without exception.” Let me explain.


There’s Always One Exception

With one exception, the verbal feedback I received correlated perfectly with the audience evaluations. One of our speakers however, was sending us bonus worthy evaluations, but the meeting planners didn’t seem as praiseworthy when I spoke to them in person. There seemed to be a problem. Why didn’t this speaker’s evaluations match the feedback from the meeting planner? I had to find out.

Well, we caught him red handed doctoring the evaluations. When I confronted him with the illegal and immoral aspects of what he had done, (remember, we paid him thousands of dollars in bonuses he did not earn) he became defensive. So here’s what I did.

Now What?

I terminated the conversation and asked him to write a letter of apology to our staff in Atlanta. These were the people he had tricked into believing that he was an exceptional speaker, worthy of their strong recommendations. He made fools of us all.

I told him that if his apology was honest and sincere, that we would give him another chance and not demand he repay the bonus money or turn him over to the ethics committee at the National Speakers Association where he was a member.

I also told him and that everyone in our office had to agree that his apology was sincere before we took him back. If even one person had a problem with his letter of apology, I would terminate our agreement immediately. Here’s what happened.

1163735_white_envelopeThree Days Later

Three days later we received a letter from him. In it, he promised that he would never tamper with another evaluation, but his apology was neither honest nor sincere. He never apologized for what he had done nor did he acknowledge the harm he had caused our staff and our customers. The office unanimously rejected his apology and he was terminated on the spot.

I did not ask for the stolen money back and I did not share what happened with the ethics committee at the National Speakers Association. In retrospect, I probably should have done both, but I didn’t.

Here was a man who had an entire office of people who he lied to, tricked and stole from, all willing to give him a second chance, and he blew it. All he had to do was offer a sincere apology, but he refused to do so. His letter was composed of nothing more than excuses for why he had to do what he did, and it cost him his job and his reputation. What could he have done differently?

Five Step Apology Process

  1. I’m sorry
  2. Here’s my understanding of how I hurt you
  3. I will never do this again
  4. I want to make this right by …
  5. Please forgive me

The Most Important Thing

The most important thing I want you to notice in the five step apology process is that there is no place to offer an excuse or provide an explanation! The moment you make an excuse (of course no one calls it that) or give your "reason" why you did what you did or said what you said, you make your entire apology null and void.

The key to an effective apology is really quite simple.

"Apologize unto others as you would have them apologize unto you."

Don’t you think the use of the word “unto” makes this look much more official?


BONUS Lesson

So, does apologizing make people like you more? The answer is “yes,” as long as you provide a sincere and honest apology. What you have to understand is that people are going to like you more or less based on how you make them feel. That's not to say that you should go out of your way to intentionally hurt someone so you can aplogize later. That would be stupid, with a capital STUPID.

If you make excuses or try to justify why you did what you did, you’re projecting the message that whatever your reason, it was more important than the person you hurt. In doing so, they’re going to like you less and trust you less. Why? Because they know that under the same circumstance you would do the same thing.

If you apologize using the five step process listed above, you’re letting the person you hurt know that you made a mistake.  They can walk away knowing that under the same circumstances you would respond very differently and put their feelings first.


The next time you hurt someone, apologize. Apologize with sincerity, apologize immediately and apologize from your heart. Make things right and let them know that you were wrong and you will never do it again, and mean it. You will be shocked at the results.

If you have a personal story to share about either giving an apology or accepting one, please share it with the Active Rain Community in the comment section below.

The Likeability Guy | Bob Sommers

Comments (4)

Fernando Herboso - Associate Broker MD, & VA
Maxus Realty Group of Samson Properties - Clarksburg, MD
301-246-0001 Serving Maryland, DC and Northern VA

Great lesson. . and a blueprint as to how to handle a bad employee that potentially ruins your company's reputation.. Good post!

Jun 14, 2009 10:51 PM
Janice Roosevelt
Keller Williams Brandywine Valley - West Chester, PA
OICP ABR, ePRO,Ecobroker

I agree wtih Fernando, this is an excellent breakdown/guideline. Appreciate your post. Appreciate yor sincerity.

Jun 14, 2009 11:00 PM

I don't know why but reading this post made me feel better today.  I had an employee(who I considered a friend) that stole from my company.  I gave her every oppurtunity to come clean. I went as far to tell her, "You took from me and now you've backed yourself in the corner. But it's okay. Give me the items back and it will be bygones." Well, she didn't give the items back so the sheriff accompanied me to retrieve the items. The entire time she refused to look me in the eye or even say a word to me. I should have reported her to the ethics committee but decided my friendship was lost, my company in ruins, I had had enough and just wanted to let everything go. That was my mistake.  Trying to save her name(even though nobody in town knew what happened) she dragged my business through the mud: spreading rumors, telling lies, sabotaging deals, stealing listings and having her friends file any type of bogus ethics complaint she could think of against me. Even though I have stood in front of a group of peers with my integrity being questioned I never broke confidentiatily by divulging details of the case to our co-workers or public. I guess I didn't want to stoop to her level. The sad thing is that if she used your apology steps above, I probably would still forgive her. I just wish the people that need to would read your post. One sincere apology really could fix all the hurt in people's lives. It won't get back the thousands of dollars I've spent defending my good name but it would be a fresh start for everyone.

Jul 09, 2009 03:25 AM
Bob Sommers
Sommers Communication - Kihei, HI
The Likeability Guy

Thank you for taking the time to tell your story. I'm so sorry this happened to you. I still don't understand what people are thinking when they refuse to say, "I'm sorry."

Aloha, Bob

Jul 09, 2009 06:37 AM