We Sincerely Regret Our Error

Regret. Apologies. Both are a bitch.

Last night PriceWaterhouse Cooper “sincerely regretted” mistakenly handing Warren Beatty the envelope for the Best Picture Oscar. This led to what us pro wrestling fans call a “Dusty Finish”* moment where the cast of “La La Land” stopped their acceptance speech and hand the award to the cast of “Moonlight.”

PriceWaterhouse Cooper is the accounting firm for the Oscars. They tally all the ballots and then issue the envelopes that contain the award winner names. Their official apology is a classic story of how to fuck up an “I’m Sorry” moment.

“We sincerely apologize to ‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land,’ Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for best picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.

“We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.”

Conflict resolution occasionally requires an apology from a party. There’s three steps to a good apology. Let’s examine each, and the moments where PWC botched them.

1. I’m Sorry

This is the classic start to the apology. You say you’re sorry for what happened. It’s the basic step towards making amends for the issue central to the conflict in question.

PWC doesn’t directly admit guilt or sorrow over the incident that led to the Oscars gaffe. Their sincere regret doesn’t even mention the firm. Deep regret doesn’t cut it when you can’t even be bothered to directly admit you fucked up.

2. It was my fault.

Simply saying “I’m Sorry” in some form doesn’t cut the mustard for someone you wronged. If the situation was one you caused, the best thing to do is admit you fucked up. An admission of fault when making an apology makes you look honest and sincere to the person or parties you wronged. Owning your mistakes is crucial to an effective apology.

Here PWC didn’t even bother to admit fault. They said the presenters were given the wrong envelope, when the mistake was discovered it was immediately corrected, and that an investigation was being launched into how this occurred. Why bother even attempting an apology at this point? PWC’s essentially saying they had nothing to do with the gaffe.

3. What can I do to make this right?

This is the crucial third step to making an apology, and one that must be handled with care. You have to see if the other party is willing to let you fix the situation, and best practices are to ask the other party what steps you can take to remedy the issue.

Asking works best because it gives the other party a chance at directing a proper “fix” to the situation. Sometimes that may not work. Sometimes you may have to take a proactive step and reach out with a potential remedy. In those cases, you deal with the situation as you must and see what happens.

PWC got this issue “sort of” right.  They announced an “investigation” into what caused the gaffe. Whether that investigation will actually occur is anyone’s guess. If you think this might become a scenario where results of that investigation are announced and people actually see a resolution, you’re delusional.

PriceWaterhouse Cooper is an accounting firm that handles Hollywood’s greatest awards. They may have motivations to “sincerely regret” their fuckup instead of owning an apology and doing so properly. I have no doubt after last night PR professionals were busy sweating over every word of the “official statement” so as to not draw any ire from Hollywood’s top stars and executives.

That careful wording doesn’t make the apology any better. It just makes the entire thing as scripted as an episode of Monday Night Raw.  It also makes the entire “statement” sound disingenuous. A more heartfelt expression of regret would have resonated with the public, the Academy, and all those with time invested in the show. Now PWC must deal with the backlash.

Apologies are important when they are merited. I had to apologize for an issue I created recently, and I took the steps outlined here as best I could. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the party who fucked up, I contributed to the fuckup. That’s a situation meriting an apology, and I did what I had to do to make sure the parties I wronged knew I not only sincerely regretted my contribution to the fuckup, I would take active steps to see the issue made right.

Who in your life that you’ve wronged deserves an apology, and what active steps will you take to make amends today?

*A good definition of the “Dusty Finish” can be found here.