We all make mistakes from time to time. Racially abuse someone on national television, get taxpayer money confused with personal money, accidently assault a woman. It happens.
The problem is, what you know is just a bit of light-hearted banter, can quickly lead to an outcry from a bunch of whiney nitpickers, demanding you apologise. (Yep, even if it’s just for abusing a junior staff member – crazy, right?)
But relax, making a public apology is easy. Just follow these five simple steps, and that joke you made about Pacific Islanders drowning will quickly fade, and you’ll be able to get on with your day.
Step 1: Wait a bit
Spontaneous apologies reek of desperation and, quite frankly, suggest a lack of empathy. By waiting at least a day or two before making your apology, you’ll have time to reflect properly on what you’ve done. And consult with your lawyers.
Waiting also allows time for other stories to grab the media’s attention, meaning you may not have to apologise at all. After all, it would be callous to bring up your homophobia/racism/sexism/fraudulence again after everyone’s already moved on.
Step 2: Read out a pre-prepared statement
Nothing says ‘I’m genuinely sorry’ like a carefully-worded, 90-second monotone statement, vetted by your legal team. This is not the time to be heart-felt or emotional. Save that for when you’re trying to convince the junior staffer to have sex with you at after-work drinks.
No, what you need now is a series of words so lacking in emotion that everyone will switch off before you’ve even got to the bit about letting your family down.
Bonus tip: If possible, don’t read the statement before going on camera – the less familiar you are with the words the better. And don’t look up (it’s that emotion thing again).
Step 3: Qualify your apology
It’s essential that you use the following phrase within the first 15 seconds of your statement: “If someone was offended by my [casual racism/use of taxpayer money to fund my family’s holiday/rampant drug cheating/insert as appropriate] I apologise”.
There are two things to note about this sentence. Firstly, the word ‘if’ is important because, really, how can you know for sure what people thought of your actions? They may have enjoyed being sexually harassed on national television for all you know. So there’s no need to jump to conclusions and waste an apology for no reason.
Secondly, notice how you’re apologising because someone was offended, not because you were a massive bigot. In other words, it’s their fault, not yours. Clever.
Step 4: Say ‘brain-fade’
We’ve all been there. One moment we’re being normal, the next minute we’re unexpectedly on national radio likening an indigenous footballer to an oversized gorilla. Life moves fast, so it’s natural for your brain not to be able to keep up sometimes. People will understand.
Phrases like ‘zoned out’, ‘brain snap’ and ‘out of character’ are also appropriate here.
Bonus Tip: You may also consider the phrase ‘poor choice of words’. Because, let’s not beat around the bush here, ‘Mad fucking witch’ is a poor choice of words. ‘Outlandish fucking witch’ is much more evocative, and original.
Step 5: Reassure the public that you’ve learnt from the experience
These things are learning experiences. You won’t, for example, make the mistake again of saying a Prime Minister’s father ‘died of shame’ when there’s a journalist in the room. You’ll wait for the journalist to leave and then say it. And next time you want to abuse someone behind their back, you certainly won’t cock it up by sending the abuse straight to the person in question in a text message. In time, you’ll learn to be an arsehole without getting caught out.
Next week: How to draft a metadata law without understanding metadata, from guest writer George Brandis.