Sorry, Not Sorry
Apologies that Aren’t
Apologies in todays world are interesting things. I have watched our President never apologize, but instead lie about things he has said or done. I have watched Venture Capitalists who have blatantly harassed women sexually tell me they are “creeps” before telling me that are sorry, or tell me they have “more work to do” on themselves, simultaneously disputing accounts of events. I have watched female VCs who have worked with these men be shocked and say this may not be true because it wasn’t “their” experience.
That’s not how it works. That’s not how ANY of this works.
In the case of the Sorry VCs, I have read all sorts of excuses, reasons why it happened, and shocked essays from those who profess that “this guy would never do this thing.” Except he did. The trust in these men is gone. Were I a female founder, I would feel awkward and uncomfortable in a room with any one of these men, and escape as soon as I could. It doesn’t matter that he may not harass me. What matters is that he harassed another woman. To deny this colludes in my own oppression and the oppression of all women. So, the bottom line is that there is no excuse, and yes, he was and is a “creep.”
Does this mean people can’t change or that we should not give someone on the road to self awareness chance. of course not. but something very essential needs to come first. A TRUE apology.
Here’s how it works:
There are four steps to any apology and all of them have to be completed sincerely. (This is basic Psychology and can be found simply googling ‘how to apologize.”) There is no order to the steps exactly, but probably better to do 1. and 2. first.
- I hurt you — Say how you hurt the other person or people. Acknowledge that they are not crazy, or overreacting or any other gas lighting you can think of. You hurt them, and you don’t get to decide by how much. Only they do. This step is about empathy, and understanding that your experience is not more important than theirs.
- I’m sorry — BE sorry. Say it because you are, not because the teacher makes you or all the other VC’s threaten to punch you out. Above all, don’t follow your “I’m sorry” with “but, you…” or “It wasn’t my fault because” and especially not “everyone else was doing it so I thought I could, too.” But also, say this as soon as you realize that you’ve mistreated someone else.
- I won’t do it again — Mean this. Make the other person believe you. This is not done with repeated apologies or by telling them ways in which you have already made it up to them. Because you haven’t. This is done by finally asking them how you hurt them exactly, and then don’t do it again. To anyone. Only this behavior will reagin trust, but it won’t be immediate. it will take time and people will watch to see if you do do it again.
- How can I make it up to you? — and then do it. Making amends is essential because you have already removed a level (or five) of trust in the relationship. Be thoughtful about this step. Token gestures or empty promises will not repair anything and will hurt you further. Guilt is not the motive, honest reparation is.
Danah Boyd has a great piece in which she lays out what needs to happen for tech to change. She talks about the four “R’s” and says we need: Recognition, Repentance, Respect, and Reparation. These steps are eerily reminiscent of the personal apology.
Leadership and Management need to do some personal work before anything can change, and then take that work into their corporations. Learning how to empathize and honor another’s experience is the way to have respect among team members. Respect in the workplace is the single greatest contributor to retain loyalty. Respect only happens through trust. Respect through fear, is simply fear.