Never Say “If” When You Apologize

If I offended anyone…

That statement rips through the heart of every public relations professional when she hears her client stand up and use the conditional “if” while making an apology.

Nothing undercuts sincerity like the conditional “if” does.

Imagine this. You are in a boutique that sells fine china. You have a backpack draped over your shoulder. You turn slightly to see another display, only to hear the crash of china smashing to the floor in bits.

The store owner comes running over with a look of horror. You say, “If I broke this china, sorry.”

Of course, you broke the china; it’s lying in a hundred pieces on the floor. There are no ifs, ands, or buts when you do something careless or hurtful. 

Offense provokes a response

How do we know this? Because you are making an apology. We don’t apologize for saying nice things about other people. We apologize when we say something stupid that offends.

Using the conditional is supposed to let you off the hook. But, instead, what we are saying is, “I didn’t know what I was saying.” Admitting something like that in public does nothing to improve your authenticity. If true, you sound clueless. If not—which is more likely the case—you seem insincere.

That old sincerity thing again. 

Origin of apology

The real problem with using the conditional if in an apology is that you are putting your ego ahead of another person’s pain. By using if you are saying, “Hey, I am only doing this because my boss (my company, my banker, my spouse, etc.) want me to.” 

Such words are in keeping with the word’s original meaning, apologia, meaning “in defense of.” Until the 17th-century, apologias were made in defense of a cause. But something changed. According to the Merriam-Webster definition, William Shakespeare is credited with popularizing apology as in, “I’m sorry.” And to which he added something even more critical. Forgiveness.

Quality of mercy

When you make a mistake, own it. Again. And ask for forgiveness. 

The point of an apology is to say that you are sorry, not that you “may have offended.” Sorrow is a way of showing compassion to someone you have wronged. Apologizing is not a sign of weakness; it is an admission of humility. You put yourself at the mercy of another. As the Bard wrote in The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

A good apology may evoke the need for forgiveness, which as Shakespeare notes, rewards the one who forgives as well as the one who is forgiven. Nothing to be sorry about in that sentiment.

First posted on 00.00.2022

What Broadway Understudies Can Teach Us

The understudy position is a tradition within the theatre community. An understudy learns the lead role or two, and if the star is indisposed, steps in and performs the part. Some understudies have become stars themselves, among them Shirley MacLaine, Elaine Stritch, Vivian Vance, and Bernadette Peters.

Today the role of understudy is in the spotlight. With the Omicron variant of Covid sweeping through our country, theaters are not spared. Recently Hugh Jackman, starring in a revival of the Music Man, salutedKathy Voytko, who, with eight hours’ notice, stepped into the role Marian the librarian. “The courage, the brilliance, the dedication, the talent,” Jackman said at the close of the performance. “The swings, the understudies, they are the bedrock of Broadway.”

Understudies on stage

Elliott Masie, who produces shows on Broadway,recently penned a piece about the roles of understudies and a term new to me, swings. Swings learn multiple roles and are ready to jump in when needed. 

When Covid struck in March of 2020, Elliott began staging The Empathy Concerts. These concerts have become an avenue for Broadway performers to perform in virtual productions open to the public. It has been an excellent opportunity for singers and actors to keep their craft alive in front of a live (albeit virtual) audience. 

Recently, Allie Trimm, who has performed in an Empathy Concert, assumed the lead role of Glinda in the show, Wicked. As Elliott writes, her parents flew the red-eye from the West Coast to see their daughter perform on Broadway. Thrills for all.

Understudies in organizations

Elliott, who runs a learning, technology, and development company, believes that the roles of understudy and swings have applications to the off-stage world. 

Consider an understudy being groomed for the senior-most roles in the C-suite. Of course, these individuals have to know the business, but they must also possess the ability to lead others, just as an understudy would if she were in a lead role.

Swing performers are vital to the organization because they can move into new roles and responsibilities by virtue of their talent and their capacity to acquire new skills. In addition, they are agile and perfect for a world where change is endemic.

Whether you are being readied for a role in senior leadership or have opportunities to assume new responsibilities beyond your immediate job, the challenge is to be prepared. This commitment to learning requires a willingness to learn and personal growth. Then, like understudies and swings, you learn new skills to assume a new role. 

Understudies in service

There is another aspect of the understudy role: service. Often, an understudy will never assume the lead role, yet as every lead actor knows, someone behind her can step in and do the part. Being an understudy is a commitment to the team. Understudies prepare themselves to step into the role. In doing so, they keep the production rolling, and the audience entertained.

After all, the show must go on!

First posted on 1.29.22