The Apology Impulse Book Summary By Cary Cooper and Sean O’Meara

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

The Apology Impulse by Stuart Dobbie is an enlightening book on the power of apologies and how corporations often misuse them.

In this book, Dobbie reveals how some companies have gone so far as to cheapen the act of saying sorry and how fauxpologies – apologies that are filled with jargon but lack sincerity – have become commonplace in modern business.

He then goes into detail about why it's important for corporations to understand when and when not to apologize, as well as offering insight into how a genuine apology should sound and feel.

Utilizing examples from leading organizations, The Apology Impulse will teach readers exactly what it takes to save the apology in corporate life.

The Apology Impulse Book

Book Name: The Apology Impulse (How the Business World Ruined Sorry and Why We Can’t Stop Saying It)

Author(s): Cary Cooper and Sean O’Meara

Rating: 4.3/5

Reading Time: 21 Minutes

Categories: Corporate Culture

Author Bio

Sir Cary Cooper is a well-respected professor of Organizational Psychology and Health who hails from the Manchester Business School.

He is widely known for being the president of both the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, as well as the Institute of Welfare.

With this kind of critical experience in his back pocket, it's no surprise that he has become a globally acclaimed expert on what makes an effective apology and how to use them in business, which is why his latest book "The Apology Impulse" packs such a punch.

How To Craft A True Apology And Bring Meaning Back To One Of Humanity’s Most Sacred Rituals

True Apology

Saying sorry and asking for forgiveness is an integral part of our humanity.

It’s a ritual that helps us live together in communities, as it tells us when we’ve done something wrong and allows us to take responsibility for our actions.

However, apologies have become so commonplace these days that they’ve lost much of their impact.

Worse yet, many apologies are crafted so evasively by PR teams and lawyers that they’re actually excuses veiled as an apology.

If we want to restore the power of a sincere apology, we must reclaim it!

We can do this by examining how viral news sites have influenced the way people apologize, examining why KFC was forgiven for running out of chicken despite not actually apologizing, and looking at which industries apologize most often.

By learning these principles, as well as when it might be better not to apologize at all-we can ensure that our apologies are meaningful and effective in resolving conflicts with both individuals and groups.

Companies Should Apologize Less—Or Learn To Apologize Right

As industries become more competitive, customer service has become incredibly important.

Companies that don’t invest in it can easily lose customers to the competition.

In response, many companies started apologizing often as a way of appeasing customers who had grievances.

However, the large number of apologies has made them less meaningful.

Corporations are apologizing for trivial things like delays or small meal mistakes, but not taking bigger grievances more seriously.

This has made the act of saying sorry lose its meaning because it doesn’t seem to matter how legitimate the complaint is – customers are being placated anyway.

What corporations need to remember is that quality trumps quantity when it comes to apologies.

It’s better to apologize thoughtfully and meaningfully for a select few grievances rather than throwing out hollow apologies for every minor inconvenience.

This shows that corporations are genuinely reflective and sincere with an apology when it counts, which increases their credibility with customers and helps build their brand.

Stop Panicking In The Face Of Criticism: How Brands Can Respond To Outrage Capitalism

Outrage capitalism has become pervasive, and it’s not just viral news sites that have caught on.

The media is often complicit in promoting stories of brand wrongdoing, letting readers’ sense of outrage get the best of them, and encouraging companies to apologize for complaints which may not even be true.

As a result, corporations are now so wary of making a wrong move that they resort to apologizing and appeasing customers at all times, even when they haven’t really done anything wrong.

The industry of “Dark PR” strategies has also capitalized on this phenomenon by running malicious campaigns against their competitors with fake accounts or paid influencers who agree to discredit those brands.

Brands should take their time responding to criticism rather than giving into the pressure to apologize right away; sometimes transactional apologies won’t do justice or solve the problem properly.

Furthermore, companies should think twice before bending over backwards just because some customers are unhappy – it can end up costing them both money and credibility.

The Risk Of Making Promises You Can’t Deliver: Why Companies Should Stick To What They Do Best


When it comes to marketing these days, many companies are making big promises that they simply can’t keep.

Take the example of KFC, who promised customers the best fried chicken in town and then actually ran out of chicken on one of their busiest days!

This is an operational failure that can be put right, but more problematic are what are known as cultural failures – when a brand promises something based on its core values, but fails to actually follow through with those commitments.

Take Dove for instance – they promise body acceptance along with their moisturizing soap, but when consumers notice that practices don’t match up to their social commitments, they’re faced with a cultural failure which is hard to fix.

As a result, they find themselves apologizing over and over again without any results.

What companies should really focus on is delivering what they can actually provide: goods or services in exchange for money.

Soft drink brand Oasis has been using this strategy successfully and refrains from promising anything else beyond a “refreshing drink.” Instead of setting high expectations only to disappoint people later on, brands should strive to make sure they can always deliver what they promise!

Corporate Apologies: Empty Defensive Statements Rather Than True Expressions Of Remorse

It’s safe to say that corporations have become experts in the art of making apologies.

But instead of taking full responsibility for their mistakes, they often resort to slippery language that fails to actually admit wrongdoing.

This can be seen in a statement made by PricewaterhouseCoopers after their infamous mistake at the 2017 Oscars; they simply said, “We apologize…for the error that was made.” By using passive voice and not mentioning whose mistake it was, PwC was trying to shift blame away from themselves.

The same goes for other corporate apologies.

The CEO of United Airlines found himself in hot water when he referred to violently removing a passenger from his seat as “re-accommodating a passenger”—a classic example of how euphemisms can often make a bad situation look much better than it actually is.

And when an explosion occurred at one of Arkema Inc.’s factories, they chose to describe it as “overpressurization followed by a fire” rather than acknowledging the explosion itself, thus putting first responders in danger due to their misinformation.

These statements are all examples of corporations trying to distance themselves from the reality of what has happened rather than taking full responsibility and apologizing properly.

As we all know, true apologies come only after someone accepts fault and pledges not to let it happen again—not by evading blame with jargon-filled language!

The Danger Of Corporate Apologies That Place Themselves At The Center

It’s easy to forget in the heat of a crisis, but any apology should always put the focus squarely on those who have been hurt.

Too often, companies make the mistake of turning their apologies inward and focusing on how they’ve been affected by the situation.

Take, for example, BP’s catastrophic oil spill in 2010.

Despite the 11 deaths and 16 injuries that occurred in the wake of this disaster, CEO Tony Hayward made a statement about how he “wanted his life back” instead of apologizing for the devastation caused to individuals and families.

This sparked huge outrage at a time when a genuine expression of remorse would have been far more meaningful.

This kind of self-focused apology is all-too common.

When Samsung suffered from its Note 7 devices bursting into flames, it centered its apology around a claim that safety was its “top priority.” Similarly, Equifax’s response to a data breach that threatened 143 million people’s vital information began with arguing that they “prided” themselves on protecting data — rather than addressing those affected by their negligence.

There comes a time when understanding and empathy are needed more than words.

Acorporation should remember this when making an apology: talk about how those injured feel, what repercussions this will have for them — show them you understand their suffering and you’re truly sorry for it.

Don’t get caught up in your own damage control; if you apologize correctly, your reputation will recover with time anyway.

Apologies Without Action Are Meaningless: How Companies Can Make Amends After A Pr Disaster


When a company makes a mistake, saying sorry isn’t always enough.

Companies need to demonstrate that they are taking real and tangible action in order to show that their apology is sincere and backed up by concrete proof.

The response of JetBlue CEO David Neeleman in 2007 when his airline’s flight disruptions affected a whopping 130,000 customers was exemplary.

Not only did he offer a genuine apology but he also laid out a comprehensive plan of action, with the ‘customer bill of rights’ detailing the compensation customers could expect in the event of future delays.

Then he followed through with it, proving that his words weren’t just empty promises.

Other companies have gone beyond this level of commitment; H&M removed its Lego sock line after it caused outrage for an offensive message printed on the packaging, and Starbucks closed all its stores for racial bias training following an incident which sparked public outcry.

These were daring moves from big name corporations – albeit desperate ones – but essential steps if an apology is to be accepted as valid and true evidence of change.

Proving one’s sincerity can require more than just making verbal apologies or implementing policies within the company itself; Papa John’s Pizza donated $500,000 to Bennett College after its founder made racist remarks while Topshop received criticism for making too hasty and uncalibrated charity donations – scenarios which both drive home the point that giving tangible reparations with respect is key if any sort of meaningful impact is to be achieved.

Ultimately, companies need to go far beyond just “saying sorry” if their actions are really going to make reparation for their mistakes – they also have walk their talk.

When Criticism Comes, Know When To Apologize And When To Stand Strong

For many companies, it can be tempting to apologize when faced with a flood of criticism on social media.

However, some brands have learned the hard way that in some situations it’s better not to apologize at all.

By understanding the distinction between its actual client base and its social media following, Protein World refused to apologize for its “Are you beach body ready?” billboard campaign and saw a major increase in sales as a result.

Similarly, when Marks & Spencer was accused of selling toilet paper adorned with aloe leaves which spelled out “Allah” in Arabic, they refused to issue an apology and instead issued a statement saying that their investigation had revealed the product did not contain any offensive messaging.

This showed strength on their part by refusing to cave into social pressures, and upheld their true values.

Refusing to apologize doesn’t necessarily mean being stubborn for the sake of it – rather, it’s about taking time to investigate the facts before making any decisions about how to respond.

Not apologizing can help break the outrage cycle so that accurate messages can get through without distraction from accusations which are not founded in reality.

Sometimes it’s better not to apologize at all – but only if a company is sure that this is truly necessary after taking stock of the situation.

Wrap Up

The Apology Impulse is ultimately a call to reconsider our approach to apologies.

Corporations say sorry all too often without truly meaning it, but saying sorry should be an expression of genuine remorse only when we’ve actually done something wrong.

To avoid the empty platitudes so often seen these days, we must take our time reflecting on any conflict before responding, consider if we are at fault and how best to make amends for any wrongs done.

Making a thoughtful response, with meaningful efforts for reform and restitution for those hurt by our actions, is much more effective than a flurry of hasty words.

At the end of The Apology Impulse’s journey, readers should have a better appreciation of why they say sorry and when, as well a strategy that makes their apologies more powerful.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.