A cautionary twitter-tale

There seem to be a number of lessons to be learned from the Alice Hoffman Twitter meltdown episode. First there was the Gawker accounting of her tweets about a bad review in the Boston Globe. Then later in the day she apologizes, or, tries to apologize. It was no apology at all. Turns out I was interviewing John Kador yesterday morning, author of Effective Apology. This guy knows a thing or two about apologizing. He’s got a list of Apology Do’s and Don’ts at the end of his book. Number 1 on the list? “Don’t include Ifs or Buts.” He goes on to write:

The word “if” is the nastiest qualifier in the context of apology. It always reduces the effectiveness of the apology. The word “if” makes the offense conditional; it says the offense may or may not have happened, that it depends more on the sensibilities of the victim than on the the responsibility of the apologizer. This is infuriating for the victim, for whom the offense is very real. (p. 203-204, Effective Apology)

Here’s part of Alice Hoffman’s apology:

I’m sorry if I offended anyone. Reviewers are entitled to their opinions and that’s the name of the game in publishing. I hope my readers understand that I didn’t mean to hurt anyone and I’m truly sorry if I did. (emphasis added)

Not once, but twice she includes the ‘if’ qualifier. Obviously she didn’t want to apologize and, in effect, she has not apologized. But oh well. She had already shut down her Twitter account by then. (Will she set up a new account under an alias?)

But a couple of other things and then I’ll let this go. She starts off by calling the reviewer, Roberta Silman, a ‘moron.’ An adult ought to know by now that this is no way to get anyone on your side. Sure, we all call people morons all the time. Within earshot of a few friends, perhaps. But we don’t put it into writing for the world to see. (Remember that anything digital these days can go universal in a nanosecond.) She doesn’t bother to google the reviewer to learn anything about her. She laments the fact that writers used to review writers, not realizing that Ms Silman is a writer herself. Then Ms Hoffman published the phone number of the reviewer, hoping that her fans would call and berate Ms Silman? Well, that wasn’t likely to happen since the slighted author tweeted the wrong phone number. Even if you’re angry, you’ve got to get your facts right.


  • Do your homework. Before you attack, know who you’re attacking. Get the facts right, otherwise you look like you don’t care. You look sloppy. No one wants to get on board with a sloppy person.
  • Learn how to apologize properly. The fact is the offense is rarely the long-lasting issue. It’s how you respond to the problem that is the issue. An actual, real, “I’m sorry” without a qualifier would have gone a long way towards helping Ms Hoffman.
  • Then there’s always the longstanding, “Count to ten…”

2 responses to “A cautionary twitter-tale

  1. litscribbler

    That’s a sharp point he makes about the qualifying ‘if,’ which really does compromise the whole spirit of the apology. I’ll have to keep that in mind when (not if) I myself have something to apologize for.

  2. another point is that we could all stand to apologize more than we do. no shame in doing it. worth reading book for some of the meta-ideas related to Apology. but yes, avoid at all costs “if” and “but.”