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Lesson from Plantation Bay: Why is it Hard to Say Sorry?

Ask Gloria Arroyo and Justin Bieber.
by Ara Eugenio
Dec 9, 2020
Photo/s: Shutterstock

The hashtag #BoycottPlantationBay is trending, notwithstanding an apology from the posh resort over an incident involving a mother and her child with autism. The sorry was not well-taken on social media.

It's a public relations nightmare and for companies with a reputation to preserve, it's a tough balancing between taking responsibility and saving face, said PR veteran Tessa Jazmines. 

"Ideally the apology could've just stated the “sorry” and “my bad” part," Jazmines told reportr.

The apology, attributed to resident shareholder Manny Gonzalez, said he was sorry to "all the parties who felt offended by my reply." Screen captures of the exchange between Gonzalez and the Plantation Bay guest have gone viral.

The mother said her child, who has autism, was "squealing with delight" at the pool and were told by a lifeguard to hush the kid down.

"It’s a discriminating experience. We often get this a lot. When normal people who are ignorant of people with special needs, give us that stare of please control your child," the guest said.


Gonzalez said "uncontrolled shouting is not a symptom of autism". 

Autism Society Philippines corrected him and said the statement displayed a lack of understanding of the autism spectrum. To singer Lea Salonga, it was a form of "ignorant mansplaining".

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What's so tough about apologizing?

Saying sorry is hard. When then President Gloria Arroyo apologized on national TV in 2004 for phoning elections officer Virgilio "Garci" Garcillano, her "I. Am. Sorry." was converted into a ringtone, the 2000s version of a meme. 

Sorry is second most overused word, next to 'thank you', according to a Medium article. Further proof of how hard apologies are? Pop superstar Justin Bieber had to course it through a song in 2015, singing to an ex-lover — is it too late now to say sorry?  

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By end of 2016, the chart-topper's impact was once again proven when a Spotify ad went viral with the insight: "Dear person who played "Sorry" 42 times on Valentines Day, what did you do?"

Forgiveness is tricky, according to science. This is not only true for the receiver of an apology who is burdened by whether or not to "accept" it. It also hard for the giver, the "transgressor" who committed a mistake, American psychologist Karina Schumann noted in her study.

Oftentimes, those having a hard time admitting their faults either offer a perfunctory apology, withhold it completely, or in worst cases -- respond defensively

Why might this be? Three reasons: (a) low concern for the victim or relationship, (b) perceived threat to one's own self-image, and (c) perceived ineffectiveness of an apology. 

The act of apologizing often brings shame to someone, especially when the transgression has impact on their self-image, hence, the defensive stance. 



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How should Plantation Bay say sorry?

Plantation Bay's apology is a start, but the company needs to do more, said Jazmines, the Public Relations expert. It will take more than a "sorry" statement. 

What makes for a "high-quality" apology? Analysts said one should fully accept responsibility for the wrong done without any other excuses. No ifs, no buts. A proper apology is unqualified. It should also include a genuine attempt to make amends. 

Following the fiasco, it's a must for the staff to undergo sensitivity training so similar incidents can be better handled in the future, she said. Upper management also included, she said. 

"If structures are in place, responses can be efficiently and satisfactorily given. Tacky and painful situations can be avoided," said Jazmines. 

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