I Apologize

When 'sorry' is the only thing that will do

Pearlie Jackson was excited about her promotion to supervisor at ACS Inc. in New Orleans a few years ago. By running a tight ship, she would make certain that her team of 10 knew that she meant business. After all, what the supervisor says goes, right? If she were ever wrong, she was certainly not going to apologize.

“Early on, I thought it was a sign of weakness to apologize to my employees or reveal my inexperience by admitting a mistake,” says Jackson. When Jackson witnessed her own supervisor speaking in a nasty tone and being unsupportive of employees, she had an epiphany.

“Like her, I wasn’t speaking in a kind tone to employees, and, at times, wasn’t supportive when they needed time off or expressed an opinion,” she says. “I soon realized that I had to apologize to them for various reasons, and doing that wasn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.”

According to the research of Beverly Engel, author of The Power of Apology (John Wiley & Sons; $14.95), the following are behaviors that most warrant an apology: rude or inconsiderate treatment, lying or deceit, sarcastic remarks or put-downs, thoughtlessness, impatience, disrespect, unfairness, gossiping, backbiting, spreading lies, meanness or cruelty, and being late or forgetting a meeting or appointment.

It’s important to ensure that you are not giving fake, false, angry, or conditional apologies; apologies to evade punishment or disfavor; or apologies without remorse. And beware of the “serial apologizer,” who apologizes repeatedly for the same mistakes.

In The One Minute Apology, McBride and Blanchard suggest telling the person to whom you’re apologizing precisely what you did, explain how bad you feel, and try to talk face-to-face. If you are unable, call the person. If you must, write or e-mail the person and give a follow-up call. It’s important that the person knows you’re sincere. “An effective apology only takes a minute, but to think about what to say, what to do, and how to change your behavior takes longer. Yet, the results of that one-minute apology can last a lifetime,” says McBride.

IN THE MOOD TO APOLOGIZE? ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS:

  1. What mistake did I make?
  2. Did I dismiss another person’s feelings, wishes, or ideas?
  3. What was my motivation?
  4. Was this calculated, or a thoughtless, impulsive act?
  5. Why did I respond the way I did?
  6. Was it a result of fear, anger, or frustration?
  7. Have I done this repeatedly?
  8. How do I feel about myself?
  9. Who am I?
  10. Am I better than this behavior?
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