If you have ever made a mistake that has inconvenienced someone else (and let’s face it, we all have at some point or another) there is a responsibility to make an apology.
It may be something minor such as:
- An inappropriately raised voice
- Expecting immediate turnaround on a task
- Taking pens off someone’s desk
- Forgetting to give a non-urgent message
- Parking in someone’s spot
Or perhaps it is something much larger, such as:
- An error that will cost someone a lot of time and money to fix
- Continually overloading someone with tasks without proper discussion of priorities
- Saying something inappropriate about someone in a public meeting
- Being overheard complaining about someone behind their backs
- Arriving very late or delivering something late
- Forgetting something that embarrasses senior management
- Sending the wrong email to someone
An apology is the least you can do to start mending the now-strained relationships.
Why it’s difficult to apologise
Making an apology is often viewed as a form of submission, or a yielding of power. Obviously this is something that people want to avoid because the workplace can be a political hotbed where interpersonal influence and power are pretty important things. Managers can be particularly averse to apologising to people below them in the hierarchy.
There is also a huge emotional component. Making mistakes is embarrassing, it is something we always try to find and the first response is quite often to look for reasons outside of us. The tendency to blame is a self-protective mechanism, but it is utilised because it is hard to present vulnerability and admit fault.
Become aware of what you are telling yourself.
Why bother apologising?
Whether it is overt or not, there is a little bit of damage caused every time an apology isn’t offered. If someone feels that you have inconvenienced or insulted them then there is an animosity that needs to be addressed. If it isn’t, that animosity will simmer beneath the surface and influence, on a very slight level, every interaction between you and the person. It contributes to a breakdown of trust, which can be absolutely toxic for an office team.
Apologies are trust builders. Trying to put on an invincible veneer in the workplace can work against you, especially if you don’t acknowledge errors. If you apologise to someone they can shift from seeing you as the cause of their grief to seeing you as a human who has erred.
The best way to apologise
It is strange that apologising tends to be done in private. The general view is that this is done because it is a sensitive moment. But this is more to protect the apologiser from embarrassment. Ideally an apology is delivered immediately after the transgression, as any time between adds to the stress, difficulty and tension around the situation.
Of course, this isn’t always possible or easy so, with that being the case, the best apologies start with an acknowledgement of how the actions have affected the other person. By showing an understanding of their feelings and inconveniences, that person can actually move on knowing that you have a good grasp of the situation, which means the chance of it all happening again are much lower.
Sometimes you’re just not sorry
Yes, it’s true, sometimes people will feel hurt and inconvenienced when they really shouldn’t. The idea of how someone ‘should’ feel can vary a lot from person to person. If you think someone is feeling unreasonably aggrieved because of something you have done, it is still a good idea to address the issue. Reinforcing that “I know this has made you feel … But the reason it was done is because…”
Again the acknowledgement of feelings and the outlining of boundaries builds trust and predictability, which is so much better than allowing a relationship to turn sour over time.
We should change the way we think about and perceive apologies from:
- If I apologise I’ll seem weak – I need to make amends
- It wasn’t even my fault – How can I make sure this doesn’t happen again
- That person is just over-sensitive – Now I know where his boundaries are
- I think I got away with that – Being open and honest builds trust
For all our New Zealand followers, Eve is speaking on workplace culture and motivation in Auckland and Wellington at the end of August.
Eve Ash has created a wide range of video and book resources (www.7d-tv.com) on building confidence and interpersonal skills. Recently she has been producing hilarious comedy titles like Apologizing Carefully, Managing a Complainer, Diffusing Anger, Developing Successful Mindsets, Surviving Team Conflicts and Creating a No Blame Culture. Eve’s two books can Rewrite Your Life! and Rewrite Your Relationships! and can be helpful when negative thoughts drag you down.