Imagine a world where everyone provided more sincere apologies. Our relationships would be stronger, and there’d be a lot more understanding among people. But often we don’t like giving an apology because our ego gets in the way and apologizing could mean admitting defeat. Or perhaps we are just uncomfortable saying “sorry.”
I like to think of myself as someone who takes full accountability for their actions. However, I was recently reminded of how tricky it can be to simply say sorry when something doesn’t go as planned.
Often we don’t like giving an apology because our ego gets in the way and apologizing could mean admitting defeat.
I had been working on a project that involved a large team and a tight timeline. My portion of the project was dependent on information which was to be provided by another team member. When I didn’t get the info I needed on time, I explained to the stakeholders that it was not my fault – I had been waiting for something that I hadn’t received. They were upset and, looking back, I know this is not what they wanted to hear.
The stakeholders didn’t care about why it happened; they would’ve preferred to have someone take responsibility and explain what was going to be done about it. I, too, played a role in this outcome. Although I couldn’t get them the information they needed, I was representing our team, and this delay was on us. And yet, I hesitated to apologize. Why?
Why is apologizing so difficult?
Apologizing can be hard because it can potentially reduce our self-esteem; it can feel like we’re giving some of our power or control to the other person.
Apologizing can be hard because it can potentially reduce our self-esteem; it can feel like we’re giving some of our power or control to the other person. It can even make us feel vulnerable, like we’re exposing a weakness. But we know that people who can apologize well are more likely to mend relationships, resolve conflicts, and deepen connections. Good apologies also show people we are self-aware and want to learn from our actions. Master apologizers know this and have practiced two foundational characteristics that can help us deliver a good apology:
Although I was part of a team with a shared vision, my first reaction was to tell stakeholders that it wasn’t my fault. Being present in the moment would have helped me catch this realization and made me aware of my opportunity to say sorry.
People know when we are robotically going through the motions of an apology. There is a difference between saying sorry and truly meaning that you are sorry. For the stakeholders to believe I was sorry, I actually needed to feel.
People who can apologize well are more likely to mend relationships, resolve conflicts, and deepen connections.
3 Steps to an Effective Apology
To rebuild our important relationships, we also need to master our delivery. Below is a helpful three-step technique for apologizing that I like to call Formula A. It’s simple to remember because each step starts with A: Addressing, Acknowledging, and Apologizing. These steps will help us show that we care and are focused on solutions. Here’s how it works:
Step One | Addressing:
First we address the facts of the situation
Step Two | Acknowledging:
Second, we acknowledge the other person’s feelings and/or the impact of our behaviour.
Step Three | Apologizing:
Third, we apologize with sincerity – we need to mean it.
This technique works because it shows the other person they are important enough for you to be brave and own up to your actions, which isn’t always easy to do. Lets take a look at how it might sound using my delayed project deadline scenario:
- Address: “Because of some unexpected internal circumstances, I will now have the information you are looking for next week instead of today.”
- Acknowledge: “I know this timeline is very important to you, and I am sure this is frustrating because you need to move things along.”
- Apologize: “Please know I am so sorry. We have not met our original expectations, and I sincerely apologize. I will take full responsibility.”
The next time you find yourself in a situation where you can acknowledge your actions and say sorry, try using Formula A. It’s an easy-to-remember recipe that will set you up for success, even when you are unable to provide deliverables to teammates and stakeholders.
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