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1044 Issuing a Public Apology

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Complete Transcript
Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,044 – Issuing a Public Apology.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,044. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to our website at eslpod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast and get a complete transcript of this episode. You can also take a look at our ESL Podcast Store which has additional courses in Business and Daily English you can download immediately and start learning from.

This episode is a story about someone who has to apologize for something he has done wrong. Let’s get started.

[start of story]

Working in public relations, I often have to deal with my clients’ gaffes and blunders. My job is to calm any firestorm before it gets out of hand.

One of the most important things to do whenever there’s been a misstep is to issue a public apology. An apology should say plainly and clearly that the individual or company is sorry and that it takes responsibility for its actions. If possible, the apology should outline corrective actions that will be taken. The key is to come clean, apologize, and take the blame, and to do so quickly and without hesitation.

I give my clients this advice every time they land themselves in a mess, but do they listen to me? The smarts ones do.

And the others? Many of them are still trying to salvage their reputations and to bounce back. And me? I try very hard not to say “I told you so.”

[end of story]

This episode is all about apologies. An “apology” (apology) is when you say that you have done something wrong. Often, an apology is asking for the forgiveness of the person or people that you have harmed or injured. We apologize for things we do wrong – at least, we should, but not everybody does.

In our story, the person is involved or working in public relations. “Public relations” (relations) refers to an area of work, a professional field where people try to improve how companies and individuals are seen by the general public. “Public relations” is involved in protecting the reputation and the image of a company or of an individual.

“Working in public relations,” I say, “I often have to deal with my clients’ gaffes and blunders.” A “gaffe” (gaffe) is a small mistake, especially when you have said something that is wrong or perhaps have hurt someone. A “blunder” (blunder) is a small mistake or error – usually some action that has been taken. A gaffe is usually something that someone has said. A blunder is often something that someone has done, although you could use “blunder” for something that you said, as well. A blunder often causes you embarrassment and requires that you apologize.

“My job,” according to the story, “is to calm any firestorm before it gets out of hand.” A “firestorm” (firestorm) is a major problem, something that attracts a lot of negative attention, a lot of criticism. The word “firestorm” is used often in business to talk about a big problem, or in politics to talk about some controversy – something that happened that everyone is talking about and that perhaps may require someone to apologize for.

The expression “to get out of hand” means to become out of control. It refers to a problem that has become so big that it is impossible to solve it. We sometimes say that a situation is “getting out of hand,” meaning the situation is getting worse and we won’t be able to control it or fix it if we allow it to continue to grow, to continue to get bigger.

The job of the public relations department in a company is to “calm any firestorm before it gets out of hand.” “To calm” (calm) means to stop or to end or to make less serious. “To calm a firestorm” would be to take a situation where there’s a lot of negative publicity, a lot of negative reaction, and try to end that negative reaction by doing something to stop the situation from getting out of hand, from growing and becoming worse.

I continue by saying, “One of the most important things to do whenever there’s been a misstep is to issue a public apology.” A “misstep” (misstep) – one word – is a mistake. It’s an error. It’s something that you did or said that was wrong. Usually a “misstep” is not a serious situation, but it could be.

A “public apology” is when you make a statement and you send it to the newspapers and to the magazines and to the television stations so that everybody knows that you’re apologizing. A “private apology” would be when you say you’re sorry to someone individually, without other people knowing about it, or at least without the newspapers reporting it.

“An apology should say plainly and clearly that the individual or company is sorry,” I say. “Plainly” (plainly) means the same as clearly. “To say something plainly” is to be very direct, to be very explicit, without any sort of hidden message. “Plainly” and “clearly,” then, really mean the same thing here.

The apology should say that the individual or the company is sorry. “To be sorry” means that you feel badly about what you have done. You regret something you have done. I also say that when a company apologizes, it should take responsibility for its actions. “To take responsibility for” something is to say that you are the person who caused this to happen or you are the person to blame if something goes wrong related to this particular action or situation. When you take responsibility for something, you say “I am the person to blame. If there is a problem, it’s my fault.”

I continue, “If possible, the apology should outline corrective actions that will be taken.” The word “corrective” (corrective) comes from the word “correct,” which means to change or fix the situation so that this is working better or that it is the way it should be. “Corrective actions” would be things that a company does to fix the problem that it has caused.

“The key,” I continue, “is to come clean, apologize, and take the blame.” The phrasal verb “to come clean” means to admit that you’ve done something wrong – not to hide the fact that you made a mistake. “To take the blame” (blame) means the same as to accept responsibility or to take responsibility for something that has gone wrong.

So, according to our story, when a company makes a mistake, it should “come clean, apologize, and take the blame,” and it should do so “quickly and without hesitation.” “Hesitation” is when you pause or delay before doing something. The verb is “to hesitate” (hesitate). “To hesitate” is to stop and not do something, or to pause before you do something. The story says you should not hesitate if you’ve made a mistake, but instead you should apologize right away.

“I give my clients,” I continue, “this advice every time they land themselves in a mess.” Your “clients” are the people for whom you do work. “To land yourself in a mess” (mess) means to do something that creates a difficult situation for yourself – to do something that causes problems. If you land yourself in a mess at work, you’ve done something that has caused problems for you and perhaps might even hurt your chances of continuing to work at the company. So, it’s a major problem.

The word “mess” is often used to describe a large or difficult or complex problem that someone has caused or created. In the story, I say that I give my advice to my clients every time they land themselves, or get themselves, in a mess, but the smart ones listen, and the not-so-smart ones don’t listen.

“Many of my clients,” I say, “are still trying to salvage their reputations and to bounce back.” Your “reputation” is what other people think about you – your “public image,” we might say. “To salvage” (salvage) your reputation is to improve your reputation, especially when you have a very bad reputation. “To salvage” anything is to take it and fix it and make it better so that you can continue using it.

“To salvage a reputation” would be to take a negative or bad reputation and try to make it more positive. “To bounce back” is a two word phrasal verb meaning to recover from a difficult situation, to return to a good condition after having been in a bad condition. If something goes wrong for you, if something causes you difficulty, it’s important to bounce back to do better the next time – to keep trying to improve your situation.

I say that many of my clients don’t listen to me and I try very hard not to say “I told you so.” The phrase “I told you so” is used to emphasize that you were correct about something. Usually we use this phrase when you tell someone to do something and they don’t do it, and then something bad happens to them and we say, “Well, I told you so,” meaning “I told you not to do this,” or “I told you to do it and you didn’t, and now you have problems or difficulties.”

Now let’s listen to the story, this time at a native speed.

[start of story]

Working in public relations, I often have to deal with my clients’ gaffes and blunders. My job is to calm any firestorm before it gets out of hand.

One of the most important things to do whenever there’s been a misstep is to issue a public apology. An apology should say plainly and clearly that the individual or company is sorry and that it takes responsibility for its actions. If possible, the apology should outline corrective actions that will be taken. The key is to come clean, apologize, and take the blame, and to do so quickly and without hesitation.

I give my clients this advice every time they land themselves in a mess, but do they listen to me? The smarts ones do.

And the others? Many of them are still trying to salvage their reputations and to bounce back. And me? I try very hard not to say, “I told you so.”

[end of story]

There are no gaffes or blunders in our wonderful scripts. That’s because they’re written by our wonderful scriptwriter, Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2014 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
public relations – the professional field of managing and improving how companies and individuals are perceived by the general public, especially addressing how to handle problems

* The vice-president of public relations is always looking for community events that our company can sponsor.

gaffe – a relatively small mistake, especially when one has said something that is incorrect or offensive

* The presenter’s face turned bright red when he realized he had made a gaffe while speaking to the large audience.

blunder – a mistake or error; something that one has done incorrectly, especially causing embarrassment

* Her first blunder as CFO was when she tried to reduce costs by charging employees for their use of the company’s parking spaces.

firestorm – a major problem that attracts a lot of negative attention and criticism

* The school found itself at the center of a firestorm after it tried to restrict which types of dresses girls could and couldn’t wear to the school dance.

to get out of hand – to become out of control; for a problem to become so big or complex that one doesn’t have influence over the outcome

* Their son’s behavior is getting out of hand, so they’ve made an appointment with a child psychologist.

misstep – a mistake; an error

* I apologize for that misstep. It won’t happen again.

public apology – a statement made to the general public to recognize that one has done something wrong and to express regret for it

* The politician made a public apology for having broken his campaign promises.

plainly – clearly and directly, without any hidden message

* If you speak plainly, people will be less likely to misunderstand you.

sorry – feeling bad or guilty about one’s words or actions, because one recognizes that they were wrong and one wishes one could have done things differently

* I’m sorry I broke your kitchen window. It was an accident.

to take responsibility – to accept the consequences of one’s actions, without trying to blame someone else

* The restaurant served food that sickened many people, but the chef and the owner are refusing to take responsibility.

corrective actions – the things one does to correct a problem, address the negative consequences and/or prevent it from happening again

* After passengers were stuck on a delayed plane for more than six hours, the airline took corrective actions to make sure that would never happen again.

to come clean – to admit that one has done something wrong, without hiding any part of it

* After keeping the secret for years, it felt great to finally come clean and tell people the truth.

to take the blame – to accept responsibility for something bad that has happened; to admit that one is guilty and responsible for the bad consequences of some problem

* A responsible CEO should always take the blame, even if it was one of his or her employees who made the mistake.

hesitation – a pause or delay before doing something

* Did you hear the groom’s slight hesitation before he said, “I do”?

to land (oneself) in a mess – to have one’s words or actions create a difficult situation for oneself

* If Dan hadn’t lied to his wife, he never would have landed himself in this mess.

to salvage (one’s) reputation – to improve one’s public image; to improve the way that other people perceive oneself, especially after creating a problem or being involved in a scandal

* After she was arrested, Peyton performed a lot of community service to try to salvage her reputation.

to bounce back – to recover fully from a difficult situation, returning to the same good condition as before

* It took Blake just a few weeks to bounce back from the surgery.

I told you so – a phrase used to emphasize that one was correct and another person was wrong

* I’m sorry you had to experience that, but I told you so. You should have listened to me.

Comprehension Questions
1. Which of these might require a public apology?
a) A gaffe
b) Corrective actions
c) Hesitation

2. Which of these means “to take responsibility”?
a) To come clean
b) To take blame
c) To land oneself in a mess

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
plainly

The word “plainly,” in this podcast, means clearly and directly, without any hidden message: “The report was 10 pages long, but the author could have written the same ideas more plainly in just a few paragraphs.” The word “plain” also means simple and without decoration: “The girl has a beautiful face, but she always wears such plain clothing.” A “plain-clothes police officer” is a police officer who dresses in regular clothing, not in a uniform, to observe people’s behavior: “One of the unit’s plain-clothes police officers has been able to infiltrate a group of dangerous criminals.” Finally, in the plural, “plains” refers to a flat, dry area covered with a lot of grass: “Wagons traveled over the plains to reach California during the gold rush.”

to bounce back

In this podcast, the phrase “to bounce back” means to recover fully from a difficult situation, returning to the same good condition as before: “Sales were very low last year, but fortunately the company has been able to bounce back.” When talking about email, “to bounce back” means for a sent message to be returned due to a technical problem: “The email bounced back because I mistyped the recipient’s email address.” The phrase “to bounce ideas off (someone)” means to discuss one’s ideas with another person to get his or her feedback: “Can I buy you lunch and bounce some ideas off you?” Finally, the phrase “to bounce a few ideas around” means to discuss ideas with one or more other people: “Let’s schedule a meeting to bounce a few ideas around.”

Culture Note
Corporate Public Apologies

Companies often make mistakes and have to “apologize” (say they are sorry) for their mistakes. These “corporate” (related to a company) public apologies can be a source of “admiration” (feelings that something is good and should be respected) or, more often, “ridicule” (laughing at someone or something in a mean way). Companies struggle to make an “adequate” (sufficient) apology to “restore” (bring back) public confidence without accepting too much “liability” (the potential to be held legally and financially responsible for something).

In 2013, JCPenny, a “department store” (a large store that sells clothing, shoes, jewelry, and household goods) “issued” (made; released) a corporate apology in a TV ad to apologize for some unpopular changes in its stores. In the ad, a voice says, "It's no secret, recently JCPenney changed. Some changes you liked and some you didn't, but what ‘matters’ (what’s important) from mistakes is what we learn. We learned a very simple thing, to listen to you." That was a good, “straightforward” (direct) apology that people “generally” (mostly) responded well to.

The worst public apologies usually come from individuals, since corporations’ statements are “vetted” (reviewed and approved) by public relations professionals. For example, consider how Paula Deen, a star on the Food Network channel, apologized for using a “derogatory term” (an insulting word) for African-Americans: “I have heard on more than one ‘occasion’ (instance)… that I’ve never apologized. So if anybody did not hear me apologize, I would like to apologize to those who did not hear me. Her apology was so “vague” (not specific) that it seemed as if she weren’t really apologizing for what she had said.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - b