Do the words’ I’m sorry” stick in your throat?
If they do, you aren’t alone. Few people look forward to apologizing. Fewer still can recall the last time they were sincerely offered an apology at work. It’s more common to hear explanations and buck passing as people try to explain why they have no responsibility in whatever has happened that has not gone well.
While it’s probably true that the reasons’ to apologize are anything to celebrate, the value of an apology itself has great merit. It provides a chance to strengthen your relationship with the receiver of your apology.
When things are going smoothly, relationships go well. The test of a relationship occurs when a crisis happens. How you help others in the wake of an error is the test and the builder of effective relationships with people.
When an apology is called for:
- Don’t wait. You shouldn’t have to be asked for your apology or an explanation. Take the initiative and be proactive. Step up.
- Offer help. Don’t just apologize; offer whatever assistance you can to make things right. You are not seeking to just repair the damage – you are trying to improve things.
Not only is it important to offer a remedy, but how you go about making that offer is important as well:
- Apologize; say that you are sorry. (If the words get caught in your throat, practice. It needs to sound and be sincere. People can spot a phony a mile away)
- Empathize; express understanding of the other person’s feelings.
- Shape the conversation so that as you are working towards a solution: “I” and “you” become “we.” Avoid phrases like “I didn’t mean to—-,“ “I didn’t realize —- ,” or “The reason I did that was —-.”
Be aware of the difference between an explanation and an excuse. You owe the injured party an explanation. Outline the facts and circumstances that surround the error. They don’t want to hear why the problem wasn’t your fault. If your explanation serves to vindicate you, that’s an added bonus, but it’s beside the point. If the explanation does not vindicate you, offer no additional defense.
Sometimes the words are hard to find. If you are in search of a script, see if the following suggestions can be adapted to your situation:
“I’m very sorry that I was late with the data you needed. I know that put you in a difficult position.”
“I’m willing to explain to the VP that the problem was on my end. We didn’t get the results back from the client on time. There was nothing I could do about that, but I should have told you as soon as I saw that there was going to be a problem. I’d like to explain that to the VP.”
“I know the Director has a short fuse about that sort of thing. I’m sorry to have put you in the line of fire.”
An apology does not guarantee that you can avoid landing in hot water. If you sincerely apologize, identify what you did that was wrong and acknowledge the impact the action had, and suggest a possible solution, you are off to a good start. You may have to allow the person to vent a bit. They are angry and that probably doesn’t come as a big surprise (although you don’t have to become anyone’s whipping post). Listening to someone’s anger may be the most difficult part of the apology.
It’s uncomfortable but no one is perfect. Apologize, express your regret, and then move on.
I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t have an ‘apology story.’