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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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- The Tweaking CC
- When did you last receive an email message with a "tweaking CC"? Probably yesterday. A tweaking
CC is usually a CC to your boss or possibly the entire known universe, designed to create pressure by
exposing embarrassing information.
- Never, Ever, Kill the Messenger
- If you're a manager in a project-oriented organization, you need to know the full, unvarnished Truth.
When you kill a messenger, you deliver a message of your own: Tell me the Truth at your peril. Killing
messengers has such predictable results that you have to question any report you receive — good
news or bad.
- Are You Taking on the Full Load?
- Taking on the full load is what we do when we feel fully responsible for either the success or the failure
of some organizational activity. Instead of asking for help, we take extreme measures to execute responsibilities
that might not even be ours.
- Good Change, Bad Change: I
- Change is all around. Some changes are welcome and some not, but when we distinguish good change from
bad, we often get it wrong. Why?
- Preventing Toxic Conflict: II
- Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence
of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each
other, we can all help prevent trouble.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenvCEIAVFkbcyQiGOBner@ChacCdcHjrnvNoDocIQvoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.
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