33 Ways to Apologize in a Crisis

White board with words "We Screwed Up.." to illustrate 33 Ways to Say I'm Sorry Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to be invited to speak at Social Media Breakfast in Houston, organized by my friend and colleague, Kami Watson Huyse. The topic: “Crisis at the Speed of a Tweet” was a lively discussion, talk-show style, with more than 75 interested participants. The event is live-streamed and you can watch it here. (Warning: the video is one hour long!)

During the question and answer session, I jokingly said that I had 400 ways to say I’m sorry. This was in response to questions about being timely in a crisis.

Upon further reflection, I realized that I had grossly exaggerated the number of ways you could apologize in a crisis – unless of course, you add in foreign languages, which is far from fair. What did seem fair was to take pen to paper and actually write down all the ways to apologize in a crisis. It amounted to the 33 “sentence starters” you see below.

If you find yourself representing a company in a crisis, you will no doubt need to apologize before the crisis is over. And, the rapid turnaround of events might find you a bit tongue-tied or bereft of ideas to convey the right amount of regret to the right audience. This list is designed to help you make the right choice during your next crisis.

  1. There are no words…
  2. We are filled with sadness today…
  3. We were deeply moved by…
  4. We regret to announce that…
  5. I (We) got it wrong and we are sorry…
  6. It distresses us to share this news today…
  7. It is with a sense of loss that we….
  8. We deeply regret that…
  9. We collectively grieve today as…
  10. We were horrified to learn…
  11. Like you, our hearts are heavy…
  12. Words do not adequately express…
  13. We join with the community …
  14. We are anguished to hear….
  15. We sincerely apologize…
  16. We had no idea …
  17. We are deeply troubled…
  18. There is nothing we can say to make up for this mistake…
  19. We completely sympathize with the current situation…
  20. We apologize for the error…
  21. We ask for your understanding at this time…
  22. Please forgive the….
  23. Nothing can excuse….
  24. Please pardon our…..
  25. We do not condone…
  26. We screwed up and we take full responsibility…
  27. Our actions were inexcusable….
  28. What we did was careless….
  29. Please allow us the opportunity to…
  30. We regret any part of our actions which may have played in this situation…
  31. We are disappointed and will take immediate action…
  32. We have learned a lot from this and we are taking actions to ensure this never happens again.
  33. You are right to be frustrated.

Special Note: Contributions to this list came from my colleagues at #solopr including Karen Swim, Bill Bonner, Kami Huyse and Cherie Gary.

What creative ways have you used to apologize in a crisis?

UPDATE: Click here to get my FREE e-book called “Managing Your Next Crisis.” It’s a free download and will get your organization started on preparation.