Perhaps it’s why we have one of the most adversarial fourth estates in the world: politicians of all persuasions just won’t say in crystal clear terms that they’re wrong when they’re wrong. There’s always some nuance in the language, some exit clause. It’s immensely frustrating to reporters, no doubt, and no less so to listeners and readers. A clear acceptance of error, an explanation – however codified - and a description of the route-map to fixing the problem has always been an effective way of moving on and taking the wind out of the sails of the critics.
The argument runs that you don’t want to give your opponents political capital or ammunition – but does it? Apologies are mostly bracketed with a solution – and create a context in which a listener is far more likely to take account of the context, the apologiser’s track record, etc - and form views about his or her integrity.
I remember apologising on national radio on behalf of a business I was working with, explaining the root cause, accepting responsibility and outlining what we were doing to put it right. What was set to be a five minute chargrilling turned in to a two minute confessional, concluding with the interviewer complimenting the organisation on its refreshing honesty and evident commitment to putting things right for its customers.
I spent time with a leading technology venture capitalist last week – and he was talking passionately about the attractiveness of entrepreneurs who have failed, especially those who have accepted their failures, learned from them and have moved on to try again. Even those that have failed serially, but have the capacity to accept it and the determination to try again are attractive prospects – perhaps even more so.
I regularly advise clients who find themselves attracting criticism to accept it, assuming of course that it is reasonable. It is disarming, heartening and honest. I fail to understand why politics is really that different. Why shy away from evident truths? A façade of implausible invincibility serves no purpose as far as I can see – and simply serves to erode credibility.