The Challenge of Apologies
Handling an apology can seem like an overwhelming challenge, especially in a business situation. At the least, it makes everyone involved self-conscious. With a clear head and a eye toward resolution, apologizing can be the same as handling any other problem. Follow the same five basic steps.
Handle Yourself Not the Apology
- 1. Give yourself a chance to breathe.
- 2. Slow down your thinking.
- 3. Know the part where you are wrong.
- 4. Gain your balance and make a plan.
- 5. Move forward with calm and confidence.
Remember again to breathe.
Giving and Receiving Apologies
Don’t let the words, “I’m sorry,” scare you. They’re powerful words that, when given with care, can gain you more respect. An apology well received can do the same. It’s the fear of those two words that makes apologies go wrong.
Realize when you walk into a situation where an apology is going to happen that there is no person who has not behaved badly at some point in his or her life. If you’re having trouble starting, say so. If you feel you can say things more clearly in writing do so. Then offer the other person the choice to listen while you read it or to read it while you wait.
With apologies, less is more. Mean what you say and keep it simple. Don’t use an apology to move an agenda forward. Use these principles to uphold the integrity of your brand and to help everyone involved feel like a person of value.
- 1. Own what you did wrong.
- 2. Start by saying why you are apologizing–that you value the person and the relationship and why it is important to you.
- 3. Say you’re sorry and say what you’re sorry for. “I’m sorry, I behaved badly.”
- 4. Don’t expect a response. It’s okay, if there isn’t one. Leave the other person a place to stand.
- 5. Thank the other person for listening.
When Accepting an Apology
- 1. Know that the other person feels self-conscious too. Be gracious and accepting.
- 2. Do say thank you. It feels more honest and equal than, “I accept.”
- 3. If you’re sorry too, say so. Don’t say things that aren’t true.
- 4. Always leave the other person a place to stand.
- 5. Always give the other person as much time as he or she needs.
Have a conversation after the apology. It’s a chance to get to know that person in a new way. Be thoughtful and honest, and you may forge a stronger relationship built on new respect.
A True Leader
Once you have apologized or heard an apology, move on to cooler more interesting matters. Don’t keep apologizing or talking about the incident. The horse is dead. The sale’s been made–don’t buy it back. Too much talk about it will devalue what’s already been said. The power of “I’m sorry,” diminishes the more times you repeat it. It also makes for more discomfort.
Do spend quality time as one human being with another sharing undivided attention. You may not make a new best friend, but you will find a person who has a few things in common with you. That’s a starting point for a new working relationship. You’ve just been through something hard together.
Apologies are never easy, but they don’t need to be scary or humiliating. The ability to apologize with grace and respect is a quality of a true leader.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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