“Love means never having to say you’re sorry…” Sadly, that truth only exists in the movies! As long as we’re working with people, there will always be the need to apologize. Apologizing is like a “room freshener” for your company’s culture: You may not realize you need it until there’s a big stink! An effective apology is honest, genuinely offered and presented sincerely.
Whether you’re speaking for yourself as a company manager or speaking for the company to the media, an effective apology can even impact your company’s bottom line. A heartfelt “I’m sorry” can mean the difference between smoothing ruffled feathers and a big, hairy lawsuit!
So, how to apologize? I suggest some basic rules of thumb:
Own your actions. If you made an unpopular decision, admit it. If you’re the guy that cut out the free coffee in the break room, don’t hide behind budget cuts, even if it’s true. Just say, “I’m the person who made that decision.” Don’t try to justify your actions with, “Well, if that other guy hadn’t….” Or if you had just….” If you were part of a team that made an unpopular decision, admit it and, if asked, explain why. Most people’s respect level goes up for a person who owns his actions, even if they disagree with them.
Own your impact. People want to be heard – sometimes even more than wanting to be right. They want the apologist to acknowledge that their words/actions/behavior/decisions caused the apologee pain or problems. That’s why insincere phrases like “I regret;” I’m sorry YOU feel that way;” and “It’s unfortunate the event occurred” rarely help and sometimes even aggravate the situation. Acknowledging your role in the negative outcome makes your apology effective.
Own the solution. Be the first to look for and offer a solution. If the reason for the disconnect is behavioral, suggest a different way you might have handled it. If it’s a two-party conflict, discuss ways both parties could approach it if a situation occurs in the future. You might want to offer the person the opportunity to contribute positive solutions for change. Allow them to participate in the solution part of the process. Of course, do what you can to prevent the problem from happening again. Learn how to turn “no way” into know-how solutions.
Own the connection. If at all possible, offer peace and connection with the person you are apologizing to. Even if you are letting someone go and follow a prescribed script, giving a concerned and empathic look can mean the difference between their acceptance of the situation and bad PR on the street.
We won’t be able to fix every problem with an “I’m sorry.” But we can make progress toward a more harmonious work environment. Love doesn’t mean “never having to say you’re sorry.” Indeed, saying “I’m sorry” may create a more friendly and peaceful workplace. What are your thoughts?