RCMP: The Commissioner Apologizes Once More
Here we go again. The Commissioner of the RCMP is apologizing, this time, to an individual member of the RCMP. Do you recall the last apology he gave for insulting those members of the RCMP dealing with serious adjustment issues? I’m sure you recall his infamous “whistle and twirl” suggesting that these members were crazy, inferior, or less worthy than those attending the meeting at which he was performing. This time he is apologizing to a dedicated, loyal, and well reported S/Sgt. who had the temerity to bring to the Commissioner’s attention something that all “tuned in” Mounties are aware of. He told the Commissioner that the rank and file have very little confidence in RCMP management/senior executive. As I’m sure you remember, the Commissioner came back at the S/Sgt. with stinging rebukes that could be characterized as the very kind of harassment (bullying) that the Commissioner had professed to remediate. The Commissioner was seen by all, to be the epitome of what he claimed to be fighting. In response, many rallied around the S/Sgt. and demanded an apology. So here 9 months later the Commissioner apologizes to the S/Sgt. I thought it would be an instructive exercise to analyze the Commissioner’s apology for genuineness by looking at some other apologies to see how it measures up.
Let’s agree that a sincere apology has some essential elements. If you have the ethical intelligence to make a sincere apology you should admit your mistake quickly, apologize directly to the person you have wronged, speak from the heart, communicate a strategy to support your “sorry”, and show you are willing to endure discomfort as a result of your mistake. Do not, in anyway, distance yourself from your mistakes, refuse to address your behaviour, take time before apologizing, deny the gravity of the problem or blame someone/something else. (Unless that is your clear intention).
Here is an example of a “non-apology” that I gave to a DSRR that lodged a complaint (as part of the “internal message to discredit”?) with the BC College of Psychologists. He had complained that an article I had written, comparing the communication strategies of the DSRRs to the communication strategies of the WWII German National Socialists’ Party, (see BCMPPA Service Star Summer/Fall 2010) was offensive to his parents, himself, and a woman in his office (all, apparently with Jewish affiliations).
As you can see I did not accept that my words were wrong, or that I was at fault for using them. Instead I invoked the “I’m sorry you feel that way” tactic. I did not express my appreciation of the role that he, or the impotent DSRRP, play and I did not request his (or any of those who assisted him with his complaint) forgiveness. Most importantly, I did not illustrate a willingness to remediate any damage done by my (alleged) transgression.
Mr. [name removed]
I have been asked to address my apology directly to you. I meant no disrespect in addressing it initially to the College. I assumed that would be the protocol as it was they who were conducting the investigation.
As I am writing directly to you, I wish to assert my profound belief in our right to free speech; both yours and mine. Having said that, I would like to apologize for any distress that my words may have caused you and your family. That was not my intent. My intention was simply to compare the way two organizations communicated with their followers. Following on from my original apology, I assure you that I will continue to carefully monitor my words before I commit them to print.
Dr. Mike Webster
As an example of a genuine apology, I would like to refer you to Michael Vick’s demonstration of remorse. As you may recall, Michael Vick was the exceptionally talented quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, who put his future in jeopardy by engaging in the fighting of dogs. Here are some excerpts from an apology he offered back in August of 2007:
“…I take this opportunity to speak just from the heart… I want to personally apologize to Commissioner Goodell, Arthur Blank [team owner] Coach Bobby Petrino and my Atlanta Falcons teammates… for our previous discussions [he had lied to them about his involvement] … I was not honest and forthright … I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts… what I did was very immature so that means I need to grow up. I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player… I take full responsibility for my actions … not for one second will I sit here and point the finger and try to blame anybody else for my actions or what I have done. I am totally responsible, and those things just didn’t have to happen. …I made a mistake in using bad judgement and making bad decisions… Dog fighting is a terrible thing and I do reject it … and now I have to pay the consequences for it [ he was convicted on a dog fighting conspiracy charge and sentenced to 23 months] … Once again, I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And I will redeem myself. I have to … I got a lot of time to think about my actions and what I’ve done and how to make Michael Vick a better person. Thank you.”
Michael Vick went on to plead guilty to federal charges, be suspended indefinitely by the NFL, and serve 21 months of his sentence. I am not suggesting that Michael Vick is without his demons, nor am I suggesting that the Commissioner’s infraction is in the league with Michael Vick’s. But I will tell you that Michael Vick did come back; he was reinstated by the NFL, signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, won several awards, is active in anti-dog fighting, and has as many, or more, supporters as he does detractors.
So let’s look at the Commissioner’s apology in light of the do’s and don’ts we have discussed and the examples presented.
Commissioner’s Statement – Apology to Member
In 2012, S/Sgt. Tim Chad filed a complaint against me for how I handled a situation regarding an email I sent him. I willingly participated in the complaint process because as Commissioner, I must live by the spirit of our core values and guiding principles — it starts with me. I have said time and time again that the measure of success for a respectful workplace is when we hold each other accountable to improve the way we treat each other.
This process has been completed and I would like to share the letter of apology I had sent to S/Sgt. Chad on April 17, 2013. I think it is very important that this is a transparent process so that my commitment to a respectful workplace is clear.
In addition, I want to correct any misunderstanding that may have been created in the public domain or within the RCMP and confirm that I was not referring specifically to S/Sgt. Chad when I commented on resistance to change in the RCMP and in particular in the context of statements attributed to me by The Province newspaper on August 13, 2012.
I’d like everybody in this organization to feel empowered, supported and protected so that they will take action on any sort of behaviour contrary to a respectful workplace.
APR 17 2013
Staff Sergeant Tim Chad
Dear S/Sgt. Chad,
I write to you today to apologize to you for any harm my email reply of 2012-08-01 has brought to you, your family or your acquaintances. I had hoped to meet with you last week while I was in Vancouver to convey this to you personally but unfortunately you were unavailable.
I understand you have formally complained that my email reply to you constituted harassment. I want to say to you that it was not my intent to harass you in any way or have the matter aired publicly. I don’t know how that communication between you and I became public. I note that you had included SRR S/Sgt. Eddie MacDonald in your email to me. I included your CO, your OIC, and the Lower Mainland District Officer in my reply.
In retrospect, I ought not to have included anyone else in this correspondence. I fear that you may have misconstrued their inclusion in the distribution of my reply as some sort of menacing aspect to my communication. That was not my intention. I wanted only to acquaint them with the issues that were being discussed between us. If any other outcome arose, I apologize and I would be happy to intervene with them and set it all straight.
I have not, to my memory had the pleasure of meeting you. If I have and I forgot, forgive me, but nor have I ever had occasion to correspond with you. From my point of view, you were being critical of my efforts to have every employee engaged in the work we have to do to protect and foster the trust Canadians have in the RCMP. Clearly you were simply expressing your heartfelt views about some of the challenges the Force is facing. I see now the irony of seeking feedback from the audience I was addressing in my video message and then responding the way I did to you when you were providing me the very feedback I was seeking.
Again, I stress I did not intend that email to go further than the addressees on the message. I also understand you are concerned that some of my public messaging subsequent to my email may have stained your reputation or harmed you or embarrassed you in some way. Here too, I must stress that my public messaging about resistance to change and the natural push back I was experiencing from some quarters of the Force was not meant by me to be understood by anyone to be you.
I received some very inflammatory emails from a few other members in E Division that also took on a significant public aspect. In any case, I was not speaking about you and if you understood my messaging to be about you then permit me to both reassure you and apologize for the confusion. If anyone did mistakenly conclude I was talking about you I accept responsibility and would be happy to correct that impression.
I must apologize too for the inflammatory language I used in my correspondence. It was bad judgment on my part to have used some of the phrases I did.
So, to close S/Sgt. Chad, please accept my apology for making you feel as though you were harassed. If you should want to put this correspondence to the public, I would have no objection. If you would like me to post this on my website, I’d be happy to do that too. Let me know. Lastly should you want to meet with me at some future date to discuss any of these issues I’d be pleased to arrange that.
As you said to me after I sent you the email for which I am apologizing today, “Thank you for your reply and your feedback…”
Well what do you think? Does the Commissioner have his heart in this apology? Did he employ the “I’m sorry you feel that way” tactic? Is he genuinely sorry? How do you know? Should he be forgiven by the S/Sgt.?
Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych