Have you noticed that the people for whom you have the most respect, don't hesitate to say "I was wrong," or "I'm sorry that I..."? On the other hand, the people we have the hardest time respecting, are the ones who are unable to take responsibility for their own mistakes. Even when they try to apologise it sounds like "It may seem that I was wrong, but..." They just can’t seem to do it! In relationships, be it personal or professional, what is invaluable is the ability to express an honest apology, without any ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.
Apologies re-establish dignity for those you may have hurt. It lets them know that they matter, and helps to create emotional safety again. An honest apology lets people know you're the kind of person who is generally careful not to hurt others.
But not always easy! For some people, an apology often feels like an admission that they are inadequate, vulnerable, weak, or there is something inherently wrong with them. This is far from the truth! An honest apology requires a good deal of courage. When someone truly apologizes, we know he or she is putting honesty above the need to need prove oneself right. It's inspiring. And it’s brave.
Since many of us experience a hard time apologising, I thought it might be helpful to have some steps to the subtle and often forgotten art of apologising! Also, an insincere apology can often do more damage than no apology at all.
So, here are 4 steps to an honest and sincere apology.
1. Say it with feeling
Once you are prepared to apologise, this is how you do it. You say “I’m sorry” and mean it! Your words are supported with your intention. People don’t hear, rather feel an apology. When it comes from an honest heart, it works like magic.
Often, we are often so consumed with our own feelings of pain and upset, that we don’t have the bandwidth to notice what the other person might be going through. We all have our own perspectives and stories. When you acknowledge the other person’s feeling, “I understand that this is difficult for you as well…”, it opens even the most stubborn doors.
3. Don’t justify
Don’t offer any explanation, excuses, views, justifications. This will only dilute the apology. Get clarity that you have apologized, and make no explanations or excuses until the apology has been received and felt.
4. Move forward
Don’t get stuck in action-reaction cycle. Once the apology has been received, focus on what can happen next. Have options ready that might help to make the situation better. Time heals, but action accelerates it.
So, the next time you know you are clearly in the wrong, take deep breath, put aside your self-justification, your excuses, your blame, your defensiveness, and simply apologize. Being courageous in this way can be scary initially, but trust me it feels great once you’ve done it… not only to you, but even to those you lead.
If not now, when??