Due to popular demand I’m republishing this post on making better apologies. New this time around is my podcast interview on the topic. In this podcast I share personal stories, examples and insights about:
- Why do some apologies fall flat?
- What makes a great apology?
- How does it work in real life?
- What’s the difference between guilt and shame?
Here’s a template of what’s covered in the podcast.
You messed up. You did something wrong. What comes next makes or breaks it with your boss, employee, friend, or partner. How you apologize can either turn things back around, or make things worse.
A good apology takes humility, creativity, and skill. Here’s a formula for apologizing that can help everyone involved maintain their dignity and move towards creative problem-solving. Follow these four steps to make your apology sincere, effective, and productive.
Step 1: Share your feelings (Openness)
You messed up. You did something wrong. It doesn’t feel good. The first step is to identify and share how you feel about what you did. Are you embarrassed? Ashamed? Scared? Angry? Get real and get honest. The person to whom you are apologizing will respect your honesty. They don’t want fake emotions or false penitence. They want to know how you really feel. Trust me, it may be awkward but it works. Hiding or distancing yourself from your feelings gets you nowhere.
Step 2: Identify your behavior (Resourcefulness)
You messed up. You did something wrong. What did you do? Describe what you did. No excuses. No rationalizations. Just describe it. Unless you are explicit about your behaviors, you are avoiding responsibility. If you don’t know what you did, find out. The other person wants to know you understand what it is you are apologizing for. Vague statements like “I’m sorry for whatever may have bothered you.” are meaningless and disrespectful. Statements like “I didn’t call Johnson before Friday and that left you without the information you needed.” shows you own your behaviors and understand the consequences.
Step 3: Make it right (Persistence)
You messed up. You did something wrong. Make it right. Admitting your behavior behavior is fine. Making it right shows that you can turn mistakes into stepping stones for success. Apologies are not about feeling ashamed. They are about moving forward. What are you willing to do to fix it? Maybe it involves simple behaviors you can control. Maybe it involves asking for help to learn something new. Maybe it involves changing your attitude and approach to problems in your life. Regardless, you can only control your next move, so be prepared to suggest behaviors you are willing to implement today to change things going forward.
Step 4: Be receptive (Openness)
It’s great that you’ve come this far. An apology means you are trying to rebuild a relationship with someone else. So this is the time to stop and let them respond. Are they satisfied with what you’ve offered? What do they need and want to make things right? Stop, ask, and listen.
Here are a couple examples of this four-step process in action.
“I feel embarrassed (Step 1 – Open), because I forwarded the minutes to people who were not part of the executive team and by doing this I disclosed information that was not supposed to go beyond this group. (Step 2- Resourceful). I am willing to personally contact each person and let them know what I did and ask them to delete this message. (Step 3: Persistent). How does this work for you? (Step 4: Open).
“I feel angry (Step 1 – Open) that I missed the sales meeting this week because I know how important this is for our team performance. (Step 2- Resourceful). I’ll review the minutes and check in with you to make sure I am up to speed on what I missed. (Step 3: Persistent). Is there anything else I can do?” (Step 4: Open).
We’d love to hear from you. Will you try out this formula and let us know how it worked for you?
Here’s an interesting site dedicated to better apologies, and some fun picking apart the botched ones from famous blunders.
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