Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Advice for Atonement

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Advice for Atonement

Article excerpt

Saying sorry is difficult. It's not just that it requires the courage to admit fault, it also requires a deep understanding of the limits of personal and group responsibility. What's more, the actual process of making the apology is littered with tripping points.

So making an apology is not something to be scoffed at by any organisation. And the stakes are high. Get it wrong, and its executor can make situations worse than they already are, compounding adverse and potentially damaging consequences. Conversely, get an apology right and this can not only smooth the original problem but also generate long-term benefits via enhanced reputation and trust.

Much of getting it right is about understanding the broader context of an apology, as well as how the recipients of an apology are likely to react. We can consider some general points, although this is not to say that there is any one-sizefits-all approach to be followed.

First, it is important for organisational leaders to decide whether or not an apology is warranted. This requires gauging the expectations that multiple stakeholders have concerning the extent of responsibility. And, given that schools nowadays have an expanding family of stakeholders and growing direct responsibilities, it is becoming ever-more important for school heads to see their problems and issues through a variety of lenses.

The second consideration is timing. All things being equal, most people prefer to defer an apology. They may be reluctant to hint at liability and guilt, or worried about future litigation, a loss of face or a perceived drop in power and status. …

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