image from www.desicomments.com What is an apology, really? This was the topic inspired by AOL's CEO Tim Armstrong's recent apology (for his egregious violation of employee privacy with respect to the health care costs of "distressed babies"). Of course, this apology came on the heels of Chris Christie's apologies --and several other public apologies by individuals who may or may not have been sincere. Here was Armstrong's apology, sent in an email to his staff: “I made a mistake. I apologize for my comments last week at the town hall when I mentioned specific health care examples in trying to explain our decision-making process around our employee benefit programs.” Armstrong added some action behind his apology--he reversed AOL's proposed changes in its 401(k) contribution policy, which had been the topic of the town hall conference call in which he made his original gaffe. For me, this action raises even more questions about whether his apology was appropriate, since the "amends" were made to a different group than those that were harmed by the privacy violation. In my mind, a meaningful apology includes the following: an expression of regret for one's actions, listening with patience to the person who was harmed, and hearing how the actions harmed that person (if they wish to express their feelings)--without contradicting them or making excuses, making "amends" where possible to rectify the mistake, or compensate the individual in some way for the harm done, and taking action not to repeat the mistake again. The Armstrong apology seems to miss the mark by trying to tackle a public relations problem by reversing the 401(k) pull-back--which is not a direct amends to the individuals he harmed with his careless airing of private health care information. Armstrong also made no mention of changing the "data-mining" policies that brought the health care issues to his attention in the first place. Apologies can often go awry. Here are some apologies that often offered, but which probably do not make the situation any better: "I'm sorry you're such an idiot." "I'm sorry you have feelings." "I'm sorry you feel bad but I feel worse." "I'm sorry you found out about that." But sometimes a sorry beast really does seem to be sincere about his apology: image from koolbeenz.blogspot.com Source: " AOL Chief's Words Lead to a Study In 'I'm Sorry' ," by Andrew Ross Sorkin, the New York Times Dealbook, February 10, 2014. Follow up: Describe an experience where you have apologized for something. What did your apology sound like? Was it successful? Why or why not? Describe another experience where you have been on the receiving end of an apology. Was it satisfactory? Why or why not? What are the elements of a sincere apology from a public figure, as you see it? The author of the NYT article has a different take on Tim Armstrong's apology than I have: why does he see it more favorably?