Apologies That Work

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The power of “sorry” in more ways than one…

No one is perfect, and, there will come a time when you need to apologize for something. There is a right way and a wrong way…

Here are a few things to consider.

  • Any apology must be absent any conditions. Too many people apologize, then say something that makes it conditional upon some behavior by the other person. “I’m sorry I raised my voice, but if you hadn’t shaken your fist at me I wouldn’t have done it.” Rather, “I’m sorry I raised my voice.”
  • No return apology expected. Sometimes the person apologizing expects that the recipient will return the sentiment. This is a good example of a conditional apology. You should apologize because you think it is necessary, without any expectation of reciprocation. If you expect him or her to say, “I’m sorry too,” you’re setting yourself up for further disappointment.
  • You’ve gotta mean that you are really sorry. That means that you are truly sorry. Some people apologize because it is “the right thing to do”. Some apologize because someone else suggested it. Sometimes people apologize to get something in return. None of these work in the long run. It is difficult to mask insincerity. The only apology that truly works is one that is sincere.
  • Take responsibility. Owning up to whatever your contribution to the “issue” or “hurt” is can go a long way to resolution. “I realize now, that my being late compromised the quality of your meeting.” “I can see how my comment may have hurt your feelings.” “Our team missed the deadline. I take full responsibility.”
  • You’re sorry, so let the other person know. A genuine expression of regret shows that you care about the person you hurt. “I’m really sorry that I missed putting you on the distribution list.” “I apologize for sending that email without notifying you in advance.” “I really regret forgetting your 10th anniversary.” Caring goes a long way to resolution.
  • By trying to “see” the situation from the other side, you’ll be able to move projects forward and mend hurt relationships faster. “I now appreciate how that communication may have offended you.” “I’m so sorry we failed to mention your contribution to the task force. You did a great deal of high quality work and, if I was in your shoes, it would concern me too.”
  • Sometimes, things need to be fixed. What needs to be fixed? What will you do to fix it and when? You can sum up your sincere apology with the action steps that you will take. Explain how you will fix it. Committing to specific time frames can be even more powerful in gaining resolution and energizing forward progress.

When and where?

When to apologize? ASAP. The sooner you apologize after recognizing that an apology is appropriate, the better. It can stem hard feelings and avoid escalations. But – it is never too late to apologize. There is no statute of limitations on an apology that is needed.

Where to apologize? In person, if at all possible. And do it in a situation where you won’t be rushed. Sometimes people want to talk, so let them talk without you making defensive remarks. And most importantly, listen. You’ll negate the purpose of the apology if you hurry through it or don’t take time to allow a healing dialogue to take place. If it can’t be done in person, phone is the next best thing. And we’re not talking voicemail. Apologies require dialogue. And listening, with care. Email is the absolute last resort. (Writer’s note: Email apologies really stink.)

Food for thought…

Apology is a lovely perfume; it can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift. Margaret Lee Runbeck

I find it interesting that most people think having to apologize is a sign of weakness, when it is truly a sign of humility, self confidence, caring and strength.

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About Author

Marsha Egan

Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC is CEO of The Egan Group, a Nantucket, Massachusetts-based workplace productivity coaching firm. She is author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence. She can be reached at [email protected] or www.MarshaEgan.com. To see Marsha’s blog, visit www.MarshaEgan.com/blog and to listen to her podcast, “Great Points” visit her iTunes channel.

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