Have you ever had to apologize for something you did, or meant to do, and didn’t know where to begin?
Saying ‘I’m sorry’ and truly meaning it can be an extremely difficult thing to do. If we say ‘I’m sorry’ too quickly in the conversation (or error discovery), it looks like we’re just sorry we got caught.
Once the heat is off, the hardest thing to do is to approach someone for the sole purpose of apologizing. It is difficult to do, but mandatory to preserve relationships and reputations.
Recently, an article about myself and On-the-Right-Track was published in the local newspaper. They listed some of my accomplishments, and mentioned where my two sons and I live. There was absolutely no mention of my husband and his two children, who are very much a part of my family as well. As you can imagine, it looked like I failed to mention them (which wasn’t the case). Feelings were hurt, regardless of the reporter’s intent.
Naturally I apologized, but it sounded like I was apologizing for not mentioning them. How do you apologize without getting into blame, without sounding defensive, and without sounding insincere? How do you make it better?
Saying sorry – sincerely
We all can agree that apologies are necessary. Your intent doesn’t matter; what matters is that something happened and it needs to be acknowledged.
1. Wait. Absolutely tell the other person that you are sorry when the situation happens, but you need to follow that up once more after the fact as well. How long you wait depends on the severity of the error. If it was mild, you can approach the person perhaps an hour or so later. If it caused a lot of tension, perhaps you should wait until the next day.
2. When you do apologize (and I personally like that better than saying ‘I’m sorry’), be sure to be clear on what you are apologizing for. Are you apologizing for saying something you shouldn’t have, for forgetting to do something, or are you sorry for the unintended consequences?
3. Don’t blame someone else. That will take away your sincerity and look like you are just trying to cover your back in case there are repercussions down the line.
4. Don’t make excuses. What matters is the mistake, not why it happened.
5. Offer to make amends if appropriate. There may be nothing that you can do at this point, but offer anyway.
Here are a few examples of how you may go about it:
• ‘Warren, I want to apologize for what looks like major neglect on my part. I realize this makes you, Victoria and Leland look like you don’t matter to me, and you do. If there is anything that I could do to make this up to you, please tell me. It matters to me that you forgive me.’
• ‘Caroline, I can’t believe that I forgot to reserve you a hotel room on your trip. I feel absolutely terrible about it, and can’t imagine how frustrating it was for you to arrive and not have a hotel for the night. I can promise that it will never happen again.’
• ‘Shelley, when I said to Marie that I thought your presentation last week was not very good, I was completely out of line. I sincerely apologize for my negativity and ask that you please forgive me. I promise it won’t happen again. If there is anything that I can do now to repair my mistake, please let me know.’
Yes, it certainly is uncomfortable to admit to a mistake (whether it was your fault, or your intention). However, a true professional steps up to the plate, and accepts responsibility for their actions.
Nothing worth having is easy. Relationships, both personal and professional, are worth preserving and apologizing with sincerity is a small price to pay.