Are you always right? When did you last make a mistake? Did you apologise?
We are all human and as a result we are all prone to mistakes. Being a partner in a large corporate firm or a business owner or someone’s manager does not automatically remove the capability of being in the wrong or handling situations incorrectly. But do we ever admit it? Are we conscious of not seeming to have made a bad choice?
Do those we work with appreciate more the person who owns up when they are wrong or the person who refuses to admit that there may have been a better and more effective way of doing something? Naturally, we are hesitate to admit we have made a mistake, we do not want other to form an impression of our incompetence.
Yet, no one can be right all the time. When we do not take responsibility for our actions then the relationship with have with others is damaged. The trust leaves. How different would it have been if President Nixon had quickly apologised for Watergate or if President Clinton had simply owned up and apologised? When President Kennedy took full responsibilty for the Bay of Pigs disaster, the press didn’t have much to talk about.
Quite apart from the trust issue – apologising for those things we get wrong, demonstrates a certain amount of vulnerabilty which can be appealing to those we work with. They see that other’s make mistakes, recognise them, apologise and vitally, promise to remedy their actions in future. And when they make a mistake it is much easier to admit to it. How many problems are made worse by refusal to admit they exist? If we demonstrate that making mistakes is OK as long as we identify them and make adjustments accordingly, then those around us will learn that behaviour. And wonderfully, we manage the negative effect of whatever our actions created.
So how do we go about apologising?
Ken Blanchard provides a process in his One Minute Manager book and below are the aspects he describes.
1. Surrender – Genuine and truthful admittance of having done something wrong and the need to make up for it. This must include taking full responsibility and any harm that has been done. Do not make excuses for your actions, an apology has no substance if you include excuses.
2. Integrity – Recognition that you were wrong and awareness of how this is inconsistent with how you normally behave. Important is reaffirming that you are better than the behaviour you had demonstrated.
3. Focus on other person – Recognition of the particular damage or harm you have done the other person. You need to know what you are apologising for.
4. Commit to change – An apology means very little unless you commit to not repeating the behaviour. Why are you apologising if you intend to do exactly the same thing again. Behaviour change must be identified and agreed to.
In additional to this process I’ve identifed a few other things to consider.
When do you make your apology? Sometimes the best time is immediate, in fact the sooner you apologise for you mistake the more likely it will be viewed as an error in judgement and not a character flaw. However, there are occasions when it may be best to let the dust settle a little before apologising.
Be wary of saying “I’m sorry you feel that way”, it can appear as though you are blaming the other person. Yes, there are occasions when it is the feelings of the other person you are sorry for but if you have made a mistake be sorry for what you did – the actual behaviour.
Don’t forget to express your appreciation for the person and provide explanation (not excuses!) if necessary for what has happened. You could even ask them if they will give you another chance. When someone provides us with a genuine apology it is very difficult to respond negatively. If the apology is fake or filled with excuses – quite often the person will walk away with a poor impression of your behaviour – but having received a full and frank apology – most people will be willing to accept it. And vitally this places the power firmly with the wronged person.
And finally, if the apology is not accepted, thank them for hearing you out and be patient. Sometimes people may want to forgive you but just need a little more time to cool off and accept what has happened. Even if the person has accepted your apology, they may need a little time before they can completely trust you again. Remember, if you carry out your promise to amend your behaviour in future then you will have proven your sincerity.
Has apologising for your mistakes improved or hindered your relationships? Or do you not know the answer to that question because you can’t remember the last time you apologised? If you can remember and your apology was not well received – how did you apologies – did you try to make excuses?