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Navigating Corporate Crises:

The Art of Apology and its Impact on Business Success

As an executive or founder in the healthcare space, it’s crucial to understand the significance of an apology, especially when things go wrong. An appropriate apology can mean the difference between escalating a crisis and mitigating damage, between losing trust and rebuilding relationships. Today we will explore how mismanaged apologies can detrimentally impact a company, using real-life cases, and delve into Dr. Gary Chapman's "The 5 Apology Languages" to help us navigate these choppy waters more effectively.

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Show Summary

Do you want to enhance your company's reputation and rebuild trust in times of crisis? Are you searching for the solution to achieve this desired outcome? Look no further, as I will be sharing the key to attaining that result. By understanding the importance of effective apologies in times of crisis, you can successfully rebuild trust and enhance your company's reputation, paving the way for long-term success and resilience.

Episode Timeline:

00:00:04 - Introduction,
The importance of handling setbacks and offering sincere apologies in a company's public relations strategy.

00:02:07 - Case Study 1: United Airlines

00:07:13 - Using Apology Languages

00:14:55 - Impact of Apology on Reputation

00:15:27 - Case Study 2: BP

00:23:46 - Case Study 3: Snapchat

00:28:00 - Importance of Genuine Repentance

00:33:15 - The Importance of Protecting Reputation

00:34:44 - Expressing Regret

00:35:42 - Accepting Responsibility

00:36:10 - Making Restitution

00:40:49 - Asking for Forgiveness

Importance of Apology in Business:

From product mishaps to public relations nightmares, every company experiences setbacks. It’s how these setbacks are managed, particularly the art of the apology, that can steer the course of the company’s future. An inappropriate or insincere apology can damage reputation, client relationships, employee morale, and eventually the bottom line.


Many of you have heard of “The 5 Love Languages” which are Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, and Receiving Gifts. You might not have heard that there are also “The 5 Apology Languages.” Some people never clearly apologize and for most cases, it is not enough when all it said was “I’m sorry.”

Let’s use a few real-life examples:

The Case of United Airlines:

On April 9th, 2017, United Airlines experienced this firsthand when Dr. David Dao was forcibly removed from an overbooked flight. The incident was captured on video and sparked outrage on social media. The footage showed Dr. Dao being dragged down the aisle of the plane by security officers after he refused to give up his seat to accommodate airline crew members.


In response to the backlash, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz issued a public statement. Instead of a clear and immediate apology, his initial response referred to the incident as having to "re-accommodate" customers and largely defended the actions of the airline's employees. This only added fuel to the public outrage, as many viewed it as an attempt to deflect blame and minimize the severity of the incident. This absence of "Expressing Regret," one of Dr. Chapman’s apology languages, led to public outrage, a plummeting stock price, and significant reputation damage.


Later, Munoz issued a more comprehensive and sincere apology, stating he "deeply apologized" to the customer forcibly removed and to all customers aboard, promising that the company would work to ensure such an incident would never occur again. However, many perceived this as too little, too late.


The aftermath was significant for United Airlines. The company's stock plummeted, losing about $800 million in value in the days following the incident. In addition, the company faced a boycott movement and international condemnation, particularly from China, where many believed that Dr. Dao, of Vietnamese origin, was racially discriminated against.


This incident shows how a poorly managed public apology can exacerbate a crisis and lead to severe consequences, both in terms of reputation and financial impact. Now let’s talk about how to use the 5 apology languages appropriately in this scenario.

1. Expressing Regret:


Dr. Chapman’s first language of apology, "Expressing Regret," is about acknowledging the pain or discomfort caused to the other party sincerely. From a business standpoint, it shows customers that the company understands the gravity of the situation and empathizes with those affected. In United's case, the statement failed to convey genuine regret over the incident. Instead of defensive language, a simple, "We deeply regret this incident occurred and sincerely apologize for the distress caused to Dr. Dao and the other passengers," could have set a more empathetic tone. This could have conveyed a more caring, customer-oriented image for the company.

2. Accept Responsibility:

In any crisis, it's crucial to step up and accept responsibility for what happened. United's initial response seemed to deflect blame, causing further damage. A phrase such as, "We accept full responsibility for this regrettable incident," would have shown readiness to own up to the mistake, leading to increased public trust.

3. Make Restitution:


Making restitution is about correcting the wrong done. This could involve compensation, or more importantly, actions to prevent similar incidents. United could have stated something like, "We are reviewing our internal procedures and providing additional training to our staff to ensure such an incident does not occur again." This would have shown the company's willingness to make amends and prevent future mistakes.

4. Genuinely Repenting:

Genuine repentance involves committing to change. United's follow-up apology was seen as too little, too late. The company could have expressed its commitment to change more strongly from the outset, stating something like, "We are deeply sorry for our initial response. We recognize our mistake and are committed to making necessary changes to ensure this does not happen again.

5. Request Forgiveness:

Requesting forgiveness can be difficult, as it requires admitting a significant wrong and showing vulnerability. However, it can also show a deep commitment to rebuilding damaged relationships. A line like, "We sincerely ask for your forgiveness and patience as we work to restore your trust in our airline," could have showcased humility and a sincere desire to repair the relationship with their customers.

In a business setting, each of these apology languages is crucial in effectively managing a crisis. They help in preserving a company's reputation, restoring trust, and showing that the company values its relationships with its customers. The United Airlines incident is a stark reminder that the way a company handles an apology can have long-lasting impacts on its reputation and financial stability.

The BP Deepwater Horizon Incident:

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by Transocean and leased by BP, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the most massive marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. The explosion resulted in 11 deaths and caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats as well as the Gulf's fishing and tourism industries. 


BP, as the primary leaseholder of the rig, faced significant criticism and financial responsibility. CEO Tony Hayward made several public statements and apologies that were widely criticized as inadequate and insensitive.


Perhaps the most infamous of these was when Hayward said, "There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I'd like my life back." This statement sparked public outrage as it seemed to dismiss the loss of human life, environmental devastation, and the disruption to the lives of people living and working in the affected areas.


The handling of the crisis, including the inadequacy of the apologies, had severe consequences for BP. Hayward was eventually replaced as CEO, and BP's reputation suffered greatly. The company was hit with billions of dollars in fines and cleanup costs, and its market value dropped significantly in the aftermath of the spill.


This case highlights the absence of another of Dr. Chapman's languages: "Accept Responsibility." This incident serves as another clear example of the importance of managing public apologies effectively in crisis situations, especially at an executive level. As a founding member of your company or the executive leader, you worked hard to build your company. Do not let poor apology skills be the reason that you get replaced.


Now let’s talk about how to use the 5 apology languages appropriately in this scenario.


  1. Expressing Regret:


Hayward's infamous "I want my life back" comment highlighted a lack of sincere regret. Instead, he could have said, "We deeply regret the devastation caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the immeasurable harm to communities, the environment, and lives lost."


2. Accept Responsibility:


Accepting responsibility is crucial in business. It shows that the company is ready to own its mistakes, promoting a culture of accountability and responsibility. Hayward’s inability to accept responsibility for the disaster was perceived as insensitivity towards the losses suffered by those affected. Rather than deflecting, BP could have stated, "We accept full responsibility for the oil spill, acknowledging our role in this environmental disaster."


3. Make Restitution:


Making restitution in BP's case would involve more than just financial compensation. For instance, "We commit to a long-term plan to restore and improve the affected habitats and communities, above and beyond the necessary cleanup operations," would show a plan for restitution.


4. Genuinely Repenting:


BP needed to show genuine repentance by committing to change. They might have said, "We sincerely apologize for the shortcomings in our safety measures, and we commit to substantial improvements in our safety protocols to ensure this never happens again."


5. Request Forgiveness:


Requesting forgiveness is challenging, especially given the scale of this disaster. BP might have stated, "We ask for your patience and forgiveness as we work tirelessly to make amends and prevent such incidents in the future."


The Deepwater Horizon incident underscores the importance of each of Dr. Chapman's five apology languages in crisis management. By expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting, and requesting forgiveness, BP could have more effectively navigated this crisis, starting the long process of rebuilding trust.

Snapchat's Advert Misstep:

Snapchat faced a backlash in 2018 for an advertisement that made light of domestic violence. controversial advertisement that appeared to make light of domestic violence in 2018. The ad, for a game called "Would You Rather?," asked users if they would rather "slap Rihanna" or "punch Chris Brown." This reference to Rihanna's and Chris Brown's past was met with a significant backlash, both from users and from Rihanna herself, who criticized the ad on her Instagram story, stating that Snapchat had made a joke of victims of domestic violence. 



Snapchat removed the ad and released a statement saying, "The advert was reviewed and approved in error, as it violates our advertising guidelines. We immediately removed the ad last weekend, once we became aware. We are sorry that this happened." However, this apology was criticized for failing to show sufficient remorse or understanding of why the ad was offensive. Additionally, the damage had already been done, and the ad's initial approval called Snapchat's review processes into question.



Rihanna's public criticism of the ad, coupled with the lackluster apology, resulted in a substantial drop in Snap Inc.'s stock price, with a reported $800 million wiped off the company's market cap. The event was a significant blow to the image of the company, demonstrating the real-world impacts of poorly handled apologies.



In a business context, "Genuine Repentance" goes beyond expressing regret and accepting responsibility. It involves a commitment to change and ensuring the mistake is not repeated. In Snapchat's case, the apology lacked a clear commitment to improving their ad review process to prevent such mishaps in the future. Now let’s talk about how to use the 5 apology languages appropriately in this scenario.


  1. Expressing Regret:


Snapchat's apology lacked the emotional depth needed to convey sincere regret. A statement like, "We deeply regret the offensive ad that was mistakenly approved. We understand the distress it has caused and sincerely apologize," could have demonstrated genuine regret and understanding of the impact on their users.


2. Accept Responsibility:


Accepting responsibility involves acknowledging the company's role in the mistake. While Snapchat did mention that the ad was approved 'in error', a clearer acceptance, like "We accept our mistake in allowing such an ad to be published," would have reinforced their accountability.


3. Make Restitution:


In Snapchat's case, making restitution could have involved detailing how they planned to prevent such instances in the future. A statement such as, "We are committed to revising our ad review process and increasing oversight to ensure no offensive material slips through the cracks in the future," would show a tangible plan of making things right.


4. Genuinely Repenting:


Genuine repentance is about showing a commitment to change. Snapchat’s apology fell short as it did not clearly demonstrate this commitment. A phrase like, "We understand that this error represents a failure in our processes, and we are committed to learning from this mistake," would have signaled genuine repentance.


5. Request Forgiveness:


While it can be challenging for businesses to request forgiveness, it shows a sincere desire to mend the relationship. Snapchat might have said, "We ask for your forgiveness and understanding as we work diligently to rectify our processes and prevent such errors in the future."


The Snapchat incident highlights the importance of addressing each of Dr. Chapman's five apology languages in crisis management. Only through a combination of expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting, and asking for forgiveness, can a company truly navigate a crisis and work towards rebuilding trust with its stakeholders

Recap The 5 Apology Languages in Business:

  1. Expressing Regret: A sincere acknowledgment of the mistake or problem, expressing empathy towards those affected. This builds trust and portrays the company as compassionate and customer-centric.


2. Accept Responsibility: Owning up to mistakes demonstrates a culture of accountability and can enhance the public's perception of the company's integrity.


3. Making Restitution: In business, this could mean compensating those affected, be it through refunds, discounts, or other means to rectify the situation.


4. Genuinely Repenting: This involves expressing a sincere commitment to change and taking steps to ensure the mistake won't recur. It sends a clear message that the company is proactive and dedicated to improvement.


5. Request Forgiveness: This can be challenging for a company, as it implies vulnerability. But it can also convey humility and a genuine desire to rebuild damaged relationships.


An appropriate apology, tuned to Dr. Chapman’s five apology languages, is a powerful tool in the business world. It not only helps manage crises but also builds trust, boosts company reputation, and fosters stronger relationships with customers, clients, and employees. By learning from past missteps and applying these principles, health tech executives and founders can steer their companies towards more resilient, understanding, and ultimately successful futures.



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This article is a summary of my episode #61 of the Provider's Edge Podcast. Subscribe 🔔 and listen 🔊to the entire discussion now❗


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