Hillary Clinton and the Etiquette of Issuing a Proper Apology

The Democratic presidential nominee has done a reasonably good job of dampening the uproar she sparked by labeling of half of Trump supporters "deplorables.''
Hillary Clinton and the Etiquette of Issuing a Proper Apology

Hilary Clinton

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My mother was a stickler for manners. She tried to teach all five of her children that once you say something hurtful or negative to (or about) someone, you can never take it back.

Such is the case with Hillary Clinton. She can’t take back what she said about Donald Trump’s supporters at a fundraising event last Friday night. However, she can apologize.

It all started when Clinton said half of Donald Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables,” categorizing them as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophoboic.” Less than 24 hours later, she expressed "regret" for her comments.

On Saturday afternoon, Clinton released a statement which read in part:

Last night, I was ‘grossly generalistic’ and that’s never a good idea.

I regret saying ‘half’ – that was wrong.

But let’s be clear.

What’s really ‘deplorable’ is that Donald Trump hired a major advocate for the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement to run his campaign, and that David Duke and other white supremacists see him as a champion of their values.

I won’t stop calling out bigotry and racist rhetoric in this campaign…

As I said, many of Trump’s supporters are hard-working Americans who just don’t feel like the economy or our political system are working for them.”

Some people are averse to issuing apologies or even using the word "sorry" because they don’t want to admit guilt or take responsibility. But standing firm and not apologizing may do more harm than good. Perhaps Clinton knows this all too well and that’s why she decided to retract her comments.

If you’re going to issue an apology, here are some ways to save face and redeem yourself.

Related: Why Entrepreneurs Should Embrace Hillary Clinton's Tech and Innovation Agenda

Do it sooner rather than later.

If you do or say something harmful, issue a prompt apology as it can save you headaches down the road. Try to do so immediately before the problem escalates, becomes viral, or turns into a full-blown fiasco.  

The good news is Clinton did just that. She quickly put together a statement within 24 hours and sent it out to the media. Unfortunately she was a little too late. Before she could blink, Trump supporters immediately took to social media and fought back with the hashtag #BasketsOfDeplorables.

Related: How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity

Choose your words carefully.

Acknowledge the issue or remark straight on. Whether you apologize in public or in writing, include the words "apologize," "sorry," or "regret" at some point to hammer the message home. Acknowledge the issue without getting into the nitty-gritty details of what happened. As my wise Granny Johnson used to say, “The more you stir the pot, the more it will stink.”

Although Clinton used the word, “regret” in the second sentence, which by definition means “feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over,” she followed it with the word, “But” as in “But let’s be clear.”

The word BUT negates or cancels everything that goes before it. It is generally accepted as a signal that the really important part of the sentence is coming up.

Related: Use This Secret Military Trick to Tell if Someone Is Lying

Personalize your apology.

An apology is better received when it comes from the heart. That means no canned speeches, form letters or pre-recorded messages. You should personalize it as much as possible to describe the exact nature of the incident and whom it affected. Clinton might have been better served issuing an apology in public. Instead, she issued it in writing, which makes one wonder if she wrote the apology herself.

In her statement, she addressed Trump’s supporters by saying many of them "are hard-working Americans who just don’t feel like the economy or our political system are working for them.” This is much nicer than calling them "deplorables."

Many say Clinton did the right thing by apologizing. She could have said nothing and stood firm in her beliefs, but she still would have had to defend her comments.

Sometimes it’s best to take the high road because if you don’t apologize, you have to be willing to accept that the other person (or in Hillary Clinton’s case, Donald Trump supporters) may never forgive you. At best you might lose all potential collaboration opportunities with that competitor (and you never know when you might need them). At worst, you might spur them on to do even more damage to you or you may eventually face legal troubles.

There’s one important thing to remember in life, business and especially in politics: It’s what you don’t say versus what you do say that makes people like and respect you. But when you do say something, remember to think before you speak.