bigstock_The_See_No_Evil_we-200x300If you are an elected official, a spokesperson for a not-for-profit organization, or a leader within a corporation, you may be faced one day with the need to address wrong-doing within your organization.

At that time, the first words that crisis communications consultants may suggest that you utter are a version of “We’re sorry.”

When shaping your responses, it will be critical to consider the public’s perspective. They will want to hear you express genuine remorse, and they will want you to understand that the wrong-doing may come with consequences that you do not necessarily want, but that you accept.

Here is what I wrote on my former blog in September 2011 when Democratic New York Representative Anthony Weiner finally came clean over his inappropriate texting:

Democratic New York Representative Anthony Weiner is the latest person to exhibit a condition that afflicts more people than anyone would care to admit.

The condition is remorse over one’s behavior and decisions—without a corresponding acceptance that behavior and decisions carry consequences.

This condition is evident in children who, when caught doing something such as lying, stealing, cheating, or hurting another human being, demonstrate remorse—typically with tears and cries of, “I’m s-sorry!” They’re looking for a way out of the situation, but don’t consider that they might have to face consequences of their behavior and decisions. They don’t want a time-out, or spanking, or to ask forgiveness of the person from whom they stole, to whom they lied, or whom they hurt. Their immediate, typical response when told about consequences? “But I SAID I was SORRY!”

Weiner isn’t a child, but he isn’t much of an adult, either. An adult assumes responsibility for his or her actions and decisions, and when it’s clear that an apology, or restitution, or a change is necessary because of those actions and decisions, an adult makes good. A child thinks of how to save face, or “get out of trouble.” An adult thinks of others; a child thinks of himself or herself.

It isn’t just politicians who suffer from this condition. In the wake of the economic meltdown of recent years, while financial services firms were doling out huge bonuses to their executives and employees, the public screamed. How many of those executives and employees, many of whom expressed some form of remorse in public comments, stepped up to accept consequences of their decisions and actions which flamed the meltdown? I believe the answer is: none.

I have two close acquaintances who separately ended up being divorced because of marital indiscretions on their part. My church lost a pastor who, as it turned out, years before in a different congregation, had an affair with a church member and kept it hidden until the church member’s husband uncovered evidence of the affair and confronted them both.

In all of those cases, the original bad decision/action didn’t have to cause the death of a marriage or pastoral ministry. But the offender would have had to see the wrong, admit to it, and then agree to whatever consequences that the offended party would see as a way to restore the relationship. To my knowledge, that never occurred in any of the above situations.

Representative Weiner’s forceful refusal to consider resignation indicates to me that he doesn’t think that his decisions and actions require him to face consequences. Sadly, his innocent wife has been subjected to media hounding as people wonder why she hasn’t either stood by her husband’s side, or left him. She is reaping consequences of Weiner’s acts. Why can’t he see that?

Finally, I don’t know that I’m seeing more of this condition in the work world, but I certainly see daily evidence that people think a simple, “I’m sorry” should excuse their every decision and action—without consideration of how those decisions and actions have impacted the people around them. These people don’t seem to think that they might have consequences that are a natural outcome of those decisions and actions.

Someone might say that these people just don’t think. I disagree. They think a lot…but not about consequences.