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  • Writer's pictureKelly E. Middleton

The Will Smith Slap: How to Give an Effective Apology

What every business, school system or leader can learn from

the Will Smith slap of Chris Rock

I am a huge fan of Will Smith as I really enjoy his movies. Almost everyone watched or heard about the actor Will Smith walking on stage and slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars in March of 2022. Without getting into the particulars, Will Smith took exception to a Chris Rock joke aimed at his wife. Later that night, Will would receive an award for best actor.

In my customer service books I write quite a bit about how to give a proper apology. Some research by J.D. Power says that it is actually better to make mistakes and apologize correctly than it is to never make a mistake. During my presentations I like to give examples of how schools, school leaders, and businesses can either capitalize upon mistakes, or allow mistakes to negatively impact your organization and your reputation.

A good apology requires at least three components if the apology is going to be accepted by the person that was hurt. As I like to say the apology needs to be timely, given with complete empathy and must equal the offense. Let’s evaluate Will Smith’s apology using the criteria from one of my books.

The slap occurred on March 27th – Will Smith did accept his award later that night and stated in his acceptance speech, “love makes you do crazy things.” While timely, it was hardly empathetic or equal to the offense.

Five months later, Will Smith gave an emotionally charged interview declaring how sorry he was for slapping Chris Rock. While empathetic, this apology far from timely and not even close to equaling the offense.

The Problem with a Time Lag

I firmly believe that a great apology, carried out the correct way, will almost always work. I am equally certain that the longer it takes to give an apology, the harder it is going to be for the hurt party to except it (and for the public to deem it sincere). When the apology comes late, the hurt party then begins to question the motives of the other person. The hurt party might assume that there is an alternative reason for the apology. In April, Will Smith was banned from the Oscars for the next ten years. Will has also produced a movie called “Emancipation” for Apple’s streaming service. Now Apple must decide if it will now even release the movie. Could Will Smith just be apologizing to save his acting career?

Equal The Offense

Can verbal words performed on a video equal the offense of being slapped live on national television? A slap physically hurts a little more for sure, but the humiliation of being slapped in front of the whole world I would argue is worse. While Will Smith did seem empathetic in his apology video, he lost the luxury of time and he is still not even close to equaling the offense, in my opinion.

My Suggestions to Will Smith on Equaling the Offense

1. Give one million dollars to Chris Rock’s favorite charity

2. Create a shelter or shelters to help battered women or some similar anti-violence organization

3. Do a movie with Chris Rock and have a scene where he gets slapped by Chris Rock

4. Show up at a Chris Rock event and allow himself to be the butt of his jokes.

5. Do something major for Chris Rock privately without the media

Most of us can remember a time when we have been wronged and either received a good or a bad apology. Recently, I had some people say some stupid, erroneous remarks about me on their Facebook page. After they were shown the proof that they were wrong, they sent me a short private message. Needless to say that did not work for me, the apology did not equal the offense. A private apology for a public offense by itself…will not work. Place an empathetic apology on my Facebook page or under the original post and then we can move forward without me blocking said person.

A great apology could make the difference between having a positive relationship moving forward with a friend, spouse, employer, etc. or losing the relationship forever. A bad apology can cause resentment for life. Is there a relationship in your life that needs mending? If you have lost the luxury of time as in the case of Will Smith, perhaps try to improve on your empathy and do your best to make the apology equal the offense.

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