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.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. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
- And on July 10: Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on July 10.
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