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What we can learn about apologies from the Britt McHenry situation

By Arel Moodie

By now you probably have heard of Britt McHenry, the ESPN reporter and her outburst video in Virginia that has caused quite a stir.

She spit out some horrible words to a tow company worker and insulted the worker’s education and appearance. She pulled the “I’m on TV, I’m better than you, I’m beautiful, my life is better than yours, you suck at life.”

It’s the classic mean, popular girl rant on someone the mean popular girl deems as less important.

What she did was wrong.  But now, let’s ask ourselves how could she have mitigated the outrage that ensued (one part turning her into a hated household name and role model for what not to do in life as well as being suspended from her job.)

I’m in no way supporting her words or what she did, but we all can learn something valuable from her response. We can learn from what people do right and what people do wrong. The key is to always learn no matter what in our lives.

We all will be put in situations in some shape form or fashion in our lives where we do something or where we make a huge mistake with our words. And we have to apologize.  Here was her apology on Twitter:

“In an intense and stressful moment, I allowed my emotions to get the best of me and said some insulting and regrettable things. As frustrated as I was, I should always choose to be respectful and take the high road. I am so sorry for my actions and will learn from this mistake.”
First of all, apologizing without being sincere is wrong. Being only upset you got in trouble and not for causing harm to someone is wrong. Only apologize if you mean it.
The Art of Likability is all about growing your likability and relationships through any situation, like making apologies.  Assuming she was actually sincere with her words, a more likable response would have sounded more this:
I am unbelievably sorry to woman X, and horribly embarrassed that I let my emotions get the best of me. It was wrong. I was wrong. I have reached out to woman X from video to express my sincere apologies and asked her how I could make it right.
I've learned a lot about myself from this experience. I’ve learned that the passionate part of my personality served me well in life when going after positive things such as [insert positive thing done for charity or other positive life contribution here]. That same passionate part of me needs to be controlled when I feel negative emotions as well. I’m in no way saying what I did was right. It wasn’t.  I learned that my emotions can get the best of me. And I will work my hardest to refine this part of my personality for the future.
I plan on taking a lot of time to understand myself more by reading books, seeking advice from trusted advisers learning more about my emotions and how to better deal with people during intense and frustrating times.  
Though I wish I didn't have to learn about myself at a deeper level this way, I now have clarity into an aspect of myself that needs serious refinement. I’m dedicated to being better everyday. I will be better with understanding and controlling my negative emotions in the future. I’m sorry for my actions. I look forward to growing as a person and re-dedicating myself in all areas of my life to be better version of myself today than I was yesterday.

Here’s why this is a better and more genuine way to respond.

  • It shows that she acknowledges there is something inside of herself she needs to work on (who doesn’t have some “thing” that needs to be worked on?) We all have personality junk. Others are different than yours, and probably haven’t been broadcast on the Internet.
  • It shows she reached out to the offended party and tried to make it right. It shows she cared about the other person, not just herself.
  • It shows deep introspection. It shows her actions are a part of her and not who she is as a whole.
  • It shows a plan of action to correct the mistake. Not just that she will be better, but how she will be better.
  • It doesn’t say “I will never be mean again,” because no one can promise that. It does show she will do her best (which is the only thing we can do).
  • It shows that the intense part of her personality that leads her astray also helps her when applied in a good way. It’s the whole “my biggest strength is also my biggest weakness.” Who can’t relate to this?
  • It admits fully that what she did was wrong. No minced words. The actions were wrong.

The next time you find yourself in hot water, use the above 7 points to make a meaningful apology. Listen to my podcast The Art of Likability if you would like to find other useful and action-oriented ways to increase your likability and build deeper relationships with people. Being likable is important for anyone who wants a better professional and personal life.

What do you think? How could Britt McHenry have better handled this situation? What do you think will happen to her career from here? Leave a comment below.
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