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) by SA 3.0 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

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More articles on Emotions at Work:

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In high performance teams, cooperative behavior is a given. But in the experience of many, truly cooperative behavior is so rare that they believe that something fundamental is at work — that cooperative behavior requires surrendering the self, which most people are unwilling to do. It's another teamwork myth.
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As people, we're very good at forming and holding beliefs and opinions despite nagging doubts. These doubts lead us to search for confirmation of our beliefs, and to reject information that might conflict with our beliefs. Often, this process causes us to persist in believing nonsense. How can we tell when this is happening?
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See also Emotions at Work and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Tuckman's stages of group developmentComing December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
An actual straw manAnd on December 14: Straw Man Variants
The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.

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