Why Apologies are Bad for Business

There is a service design joke. Everything is service design.

Darby Cox
5 min readJan 23, 2019


I think this helped shape my belief on management — that to be an effective manager, you must also be an effective actor (actress).

Vending Fascism

Every story you tell — be it an tidbit about your life, the run in you had on the way to the office, etc. These are all going into what your management persona is. Actors almost never break character. Managers shouldn’t either. When you talk about your own life, your own stories, what persona are you shaping for yourself?

I have a teammate, who for the last three years, has been a chronic over-apologizer. At first, I punished her. “That’s not allowed here. Say something else.” This only worked at removing the problem from my point of view. Next, I tried rewards. Each week that we got through without an apology, a hat pin, a mini champagne bottle, a coffee. Finally — I tried to live as the best example to her that I possibly could. I focused on my interactions, ensuring I didn’t apologize needlessly. That even if I messed up, or I knew something wasn’t going to turn out perfect, I didn’t need to be sorry. I explained situations to her and why I decided to act that way in them. You see, the problem was never the apology. It was that she felt unsure about her actions. It was about why she chose to apologize, rather than trying again.

A few weeks ago, we were working on some campaign messaging together. I suggested a pre-emptive apology.

Darby & Nola dog, 2016

“We don’t apologize here.”

Her words came quickly and with belief behind them, and I had to stay focused on my computer screen so she wouldn’t see the tears of pride forming. We don’t apologize here, because we believe wholeheartedly in what we are doing. Why would we apologize if we believed in our actions?Sometimes we make mistakes. But we know that we made them to learn and improve, to become better versions of ourselves. The ‘carrot v stick’ business mentality was outdated at it’s own creation party. You cannot punish or reward behavior to make it stick. You can only embrace it, and emulate…