There are people in the business world who believe you shouldn’t apologize when you make a mistake.
They are generally operating on two silly beliefs:
Silly Belief #1: Leaders shouldn’t make mistakes.
Silly Belief #2: Apologizing is a sign of weakness.
The reality is that EVERYONE makes mistakes. Great leaders admit them,
Apologies cement relationships. A critical leadership competency is to be able to forge relationships across an organization. If you have made a mistake but don’t apologize if it harms someone you will be seen as insensitive and dishonest.
The ability to read others, to be honest, and to forge strong relationships are key leadership skills.
Employees remember slights and being wronged for years if there’s no apology. In my consulting work, I had interviewed employees who felt they were wronged by a supervisor and still feel the upset years later. This is because they are denied the closure that an apology provides.
Here are some tips for making a good apology:
- Apologize as soon after the situation as you can. For example, if you criticized someone in a meeting, meet with them as quickly as you can to make things right.
- Say what you did wrong. Be clear about what you’re apologizing for. Don’t expect the other person to figure it out.
- Use the words “I apologize” or “I’m sorry.” Those words are extremely important to a person who you are apologizing to. Be direct.
- Ask them what would make the situation right. Often, someone will avoid asking the other party what they need in order to feel that things are okay again. It’s a mistake not to ask; they’re thinking it anyway, so you might as well know. If they say they aren’t sure, make a time later to discuss it again, preferably within a day or two.
- Once you’ve made it right, move on. If the other party has said what they would like to make the situation right again, and you’ve done that, move on and don’t bring it up again.
Many people compromise an apology by saying something ridiculous like, “I’m sorry you felt bad about what I did,” or, “I’m sorry I didn’t behave the way you wanted me to.”
Those are non-apologies that the person offering them knows are non-apologies. They fool no one.
If you strongly believe that an apology isn’t necessary, think about this: There is no downside to offering one.
People will respect you more for it.
And it’s a good habit to get into.