Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 25;   June 18, 2003: Demanding Forgiveness

Demanding Forgiveness

by

Working together under stress, we do sometimes hurt each other. Delivering apologies is a skill critical to repairing those hurts and maintaining our relationships.

The elevator doors opened, and to his great discomfort, Tim found himself face-to-face with Trish. He boarded, gave her a slight nod, and she returned a polite smile. Standing beside her watching the number count down from 37 to L, he realized that he would eventually have to apologize for what he'd said in the meeting earlier. Otherwise, the discomfort between them would make collaborating impossible.

Working together under pressure,
transgressions are inevitable
"I'd like to apologize for this afternoon, Trish. Can I come by after lunch?"

"OK," she replied. "But let's meet in the Canyon." The Canyon — the Grand Canyon was its full name — was one of Marketing's conference rooms. They named their conference rooms after parks.

Tim has just taken two steps that will help him and Trish repair their working relationship. He has realized the need for an apology, and he has asked her for permission to deliver it. Working together as we often do, under pressure, transgressions are inevitable. At times, we hurt each other, sometimes by accident, and sometimes by intention.

Elevator doors at the Spalding Building, Portland, Oregon (2012)

Elevator doors at the Spalding Building, Portland, Oregon (2012). Photo (cc) Another Believer.

Delivering apologies is a skill critical to maintaining our relationships and to repairing these hurts, yet we often bungle the delivery. Here are some tips for making effective professional apologies.

Ask for permission
It's possible that your intended recipient isn't willing or ready to receive an apology. Ask for permission. Realize that you really are asking for a gift — the gift of receiving your apology.
Expect nothing
Apologies must be unconditional. Expectations of reciprocity, mutual concession, or forgiveness undermine your apology. Often expectations are experienced as demands.
Apologize for mistakes, not intentions
Apologizing for accidents of execution or plan can help; apologizing for something done intentionally, and which you'd likely do again in similar circumstances, isn't likely to work. Such apologies seem insincere, and often are. "I'm sorry I had to lay you off" won't help.
Offer no excuses
When we consider ourselves responsible for the pain of others, we sometimes say, "I didn't mean to," or, "That was not my intention." Any assurances that their pain wasn't a primary objective of your actions are in vain. Instead, apologize for your negligence, or your thoughtlessness, or your failure to find an alternative.
Acknowledge pain
Acknowledge their pain, and your inability to grasp it fully. And acknowledge your own pain. Of course, sincerity is required.
Take full responsibility
Acknowledge that you are 100% responsible for your own actions, which you now regret. Allocating responsibility to others defeats the purpose of the apology, especially when you allocate some of it to the person you're apologizing to.
Tell what you've learned
If you've learned something from the incident, consider revealing it. Knowing that you're less likely to repeat your transgression can be a comfort.

Whatever the form of your apology, think carefully before asking for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness can seem like a demand, and that compounds your offense. Only forgiveness freely given has true meaning. Go to top Top  Next issue: When You Travel Alone  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenzctFKdGSKIvYZorOner@ChacBaeAQeKdGegfjRFxoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Emotions at Work:

FeedbackFeedback Fumbles
"Would you like some feedback on that?" Uh-oh, you think, absolutely not. But if you're like many of us, your response is something like, "Sure, I'd be very interested in your thoughts." Why is giving and receiving feedback so difficult?
Hot and cold faucetsHot and Cold Running People
Do you consider yourself a body linguist? Can you tell what people are thinking just by looking at gestures and postures? Think again. Body language is much more complex and ambiguous than many would have us believe.
Two redwoods in the Stout Memorial Grove of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in CaliforniaNot Really Part of the Team: I
Some team members hang back. They show little initiative and have little social contact with other team members. How does this come about?
The Bloomingdale's store in Stamford, Connecticut in January 1955Why Scope Expands: I
Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction, has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?
The FBI wanted poster for Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev, a Russian cyber criminalToxic Conflict in Teams: Attacks
In toxic conflict, people try to resolve their differences by eliminating each other's ability to provide opposition. In the early stages of toxic conflict, the attacks often escape notice. Here's a catalog of covert attack tactics.

See also Emotions at Work and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's concept of possible colonies on future mars missionsComing June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningAnd on July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrengpPkmaHNIWXyLOCtner@ChacLQgCmFGdjCPpbnkFoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.