Apologizing is a modern plague that many of you utter “I’m sorry” more on a given day than “Thank You” and “You’re Welcome” combined.
- You rush to say it when we’re interrupted
- Scream it across a crowded restaurant when someone else arrives late so you’ve lost your table
- You mutter it when a man walks too close to on the street
- Even when a truck is singing its grating tune right below your window and you want to run and apologize to the driver for how insane he’s making you
Call it an Age of Apology
You may not remember even when in life “the sorries” began. Could be,
- Apologizing to a colleague who didn’t invite you to her birthday party after she publicly handed invitations out to the whole department
- Sorry for your tears. Sorry you had to be mean
- The fact is, a lot of the time when you say sorry it’s because you’re mad
- explode and drip my hideous rage juice all over someone I’m simultaneously pissed at and trying to please
- And so saying sorry serves as a sort of cork, making sure my emotions are contained and packaged neatly
- Sorry is the wrapping paper AND the bow
You say sorry all day, which doesn’t make sense. You are not a warlord, a drunk driver, or a delivery guy speeding down the street on a fixed gear bike scaring the shit out of pedestrians. You are sometimes right, sometimes wrong but somehow always sorry.
And this has never been more clearer since you became a boss.
You may had to express needs and desires clearly to a slew of lawyers, agents and writers.
And while commitment to work overrode almost any performance anxiety, it didn’t override your hardwired instinct to apologize.
- If you changed my mind,
- someone disagreed
- someone else misheard or made a mistake…
What would happen if you spent this week NOT apologizing? Doll, you’ve apologized to me 10 times in the last 10 minutes.
You tell him it was even worse with friends and a total parody at work, where sorry for having to pee.
But what do you replace sorry with?
Well for starters, you can replace it with an actual expression of your needs and desires.
And it turns out when you express what you want (without a canned and insincere apology) everyone benefits.
Your employees know what you want from them and can do their jobs with clarity and pride. The dynamic remains healthy and open.
You feel 79% less shame (there’s 21% of human shame that’s just baseline and incurable, right!?)
Because it turns out saying sorry somehow makes you sorrier. In friendships, it creates tension and some odd drama where there wasn’t any. Think about it: if your friend is apologizing to you all day for a slight that you didn’t even register, then you start to wonder what she did! You start to wonder what you did! Everyone is confused!
Let’s just trust that when our friends have something they need an apology for, they’ll be honest and clear, and when we really need to offer one, we’ll know it.
This is not negating the power of a real apology, especially in the workplace. One of the most important things a person in charge can do is own her/his mistakes and apologize sincerely and specifically, in a way that shows their colleagues they have learned and they will do better (I’ll try, OK!?) But if most women I know — some bros too — were to keep an apology log, I bet they would find these sincere apologies are few and far between, and deeply diminished by the litany of reflex sorries they’re doling out all day.
I won’t say my father’s experiment cured me. After all, I’ve been apologizing profusely since 1989 — like pigs in blankets and reading celebrity gossip, it’s not a habit easily broken. But it illustrated a better way. Something to strive for. When I replaced apologies with more fully formed and honest sentiments, a world of communication possibilities opened up to me. I’m just sorry it took me so long.
[source: the stuff of Instagram captions and yearbook quotes and screaming, drunken bachelorette parties]
Your know that entrepreneurs and business leaders aren’t typically the most empathetic individuals. The characteristics that led to your success in building companies from scratch don’t necessarily translate into great interpersonal skills.
- Being driven
However, knowing how to connect with, relate to and show empathy for others can open more opportunities you and may lead to more fulfilling relationships, as well.
Positive versus negative conflict
No one likes to deal with conflict, so instead, people tend to choose one of two alternatives:
- Avoid conflict at any cost; act overly compassionate to everyone (getting you nowhere)
- Do the opposite, and take a “my way or the highway” attitude (getting you alienated).
But conflict doesn’t have to be bad; in fact, positive conflict can lead to incredibly beneficial change. The ideal state for handling conflict is a blend of both, a compassionate accountability that balances the two approaches. With compassionate accountability, you demonstrate that you’re committed to the relationship at hand and you’re also determined to maintain each other’s respective responsibility for the situation.
So where to start? One of the easiest skills to master, but one that is often overlooked, is building a better apology. Think about the last time you apologized to a colleague or friend. At best, your apology probably consisted of a simple, “I’m sorry;” at worst, it was a drama-based apology that actually made the situation worse. We’re all familiar with the drama-based apology: “I’m really sorry that you got upset over that” is a classic way to dodge taking responsibility and put the onus back on the wounded party. A well-crafted, meaningful apology puts the responsibility squarely on the party that erred, and addresses three components: heart, head and hands.
- Heart:Represents the feelings you have about the mistake you made.
- Head:Represents the thoughts you have when they feel you’ve screwed up.
- Hands:Represents the behavior that led to the situation where an apology is deemed necessary.
Four steps to a better apology
A good apology recognizes the gap between what someone wanted from you and what he or she actually experienced, and addresses the feelings, thoughts and behaviors that are present as a result. The best formula for a great apology consists of four steps:
Be open: As awkward as it feels, address the feelings that you have as a result of your error. Are you embarrassed? Angry with yourself? Scared of the consequences of your action? Being open about your feelings will immediately communicate that you know you did something wrong, and as a result, you don’t feel good.
Identify what went wrong: Articulate the behavior that led to the mistake, and how it impacted others, without rationalizing why it happened. Make sure you understand what you’re apologizing for; in some cases, you may not know what you did to cause the other person angst. In that scenario, take the time to dig deeper and find out what behavior caused stress so you can be sincere in your response.
Make it right: Own the situation and take responsibility for what happened. Start anticipating what you can do to correct the situation. This step isn’t about feeling ashamed of your actions, but taking positive steps to remedy your mistakes. During step three is the right time to actually say you are sorry.
Check in: You’ve done everything you can to make amends; now it’s time to check in with the other party. Is he or she feeling better? Is the problem resolved? Keep your expectations in check here. While it’s possible that everything will improve after you deliver a great apology, the reality is that you have no control over the reaction of others. And in some instances, a well-crafted, compassionate apology can actually catch the other person off-guard, so give the other person time to process this new approach they’re seeing from you.
Putting it all together
Let’s say you accidentally forwarded an email containing your marketing director’s salary information to the entire sales department. Your apology to him might go like this: “I feel terrible about sending your salary information to the sales team. I failed to scroll to the bottom of the email and, in doing so, I compromised your privacy. I’m sorry. I’m going to personally see to it that the email is deleted. Is there anything else that would make you feel better about my mistake?”
Suresh Shah, Pathfinders Enterprise