Looking Up to Mr. Weiner

Perhaps, businesses would do well to follow the lead of Congressman Weiner. No, not his internet flirting, or his bad-judgment photo texting, or his blatant lies to reporters… but his apology. In the rush to vilify Mr. Weiner and brush aside the whole affair in favor of the latest headline, we may have missed the moral of the story. In the end – albeit prompted by the fact that he was caught red-handed – Weiner apologized. And he did it well.

Businesses often have trouble apologizing. Instead, we justify our actions. Our executives defuse attacks by refocusing discussions on the organization’s positive traits; our public relations departments spin mistakes into well-intentioned and purposeful actions; our attorneys counsel managers not to admit culpability; and our sales and customer service representatives calm irate customers with compensatory offers. And while all of these tactics are legitimate, as a strategy they are incomplete.

Sooner or later, each of us is wronged. It could be a faulty product, or poor service, or misleading advertising, or a lack of attention. And when we decide to voice our dissatisfaction, what we want is an apology, plain and simple. Nothing less will do.

When Anthony Weiner confronted reporters on June 6, he apologized, elegantly. He took full responsibility for his actions, detailed his transgressions, expressed sincere regret for the pain he had caused others, and allowed his detractors to speak their mind and to ask questions. And then, the story was over.

“Wait!” you say. “Businesses can’t afford to follow Mr. Weiner’s lead; the consequences are unacceptable; we can’t afford to lose customers, especially in this market.” And in part, I would agree.

I would agree that the customer relationship is paramount. Which is exactly why an apology is the only acceptable route. Apologies validate the pain of the victims, and in so doing, they facilitate healing for both parties. Apologies allow those who have suffered to see good in the transgressor. Apologies are the evidence of humility, and humility earns respect.

The moral of the story is simple: When you’re wrong, admit it. Then, make amends. Trust earned through honesty is the foundation of customer loyalty. Arrogance and denial, on the other hand, are unforgivable.