The British Prime Minister Apologizes

British Prime Minister Liz Truss took the opportunity yesterday to apologize for the fiscal decisions made during her brief but controversial tenure in office. Her plans announced last month to cut taxes roiled financial markets, prompting the firing of her Chancellor of the Exchequer Friday, and replacing him with a new head of treasury who announced major changes – the media calls them “U-turns” — to the government’s fiscal policy.

In an interview with the BBC, Ms. Truss said, “I recognize we have made mistakes. I’m sorry for those mistakes.”

So far, so good. Two key elements of a good apology are taking responsibility, as indicated by use of “I”, and using the word “sorry” appropriately.

But, perhaps a little too quickly, she tried to swing the attention from the past to the future:

“But I fixed the mistakes – I’ve appointed a new chancellor; we have restored economic stability and fiscal discipline…“  A good apology includes a plan to repair the damage done, but most Britons would probably not agree that everything is “fixed” yet. It might have been better had she said that she was trying to repair the damage done, acknowledging that it may take awhile for the “mistakes” to be “fixed.” She seems to imply that appointing a new chief treasurer has “fixed” everything, but it hasn’t.

Later in the interview, she added this:

“I do want to accept responsibility and say sorry for the mistakes that have been made… We went too far and too fast; I’ve acknowledged that. I’ve put in place a new chancellor …”

Here, she violates one of the cardinal rules of good apologies: Never use passive voice. “Mistakes that have been made” is deadly to a good apology. She softens it by coupling it with accepting responsibility and saying sorry. She also offers a bit of an explanation for what happened: “we went too far, too fast.” This could be seen as an honest assessment of how she made the “mistakes.” The line in an apology between “explanation” and “excuse” is a fine one, but this sounds to me more like explanation, and helps answer the question every apology recipient wants answered: do you know what you did wrong?

In a part of the interview not shown in this clip, the reporter asks her whether this has all been “humiliating.” Being a seasoned politican, she does not answer his question, but she does offer this:

“I do think it is the mark of an honest politician who does say ‘yes, I’ve made a mistake.’ I’ve addressed that mistake. And now we need to deliver for the people…”

Public apologies are difficult, especially when the full extent of the damage done is not yet known. Kudos to PM Truss for making the effort, resulting in a pretty good apology.

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