When you admit your mistake, you restore dignity to the person who has been hurt, says Carole Spiers

Jenny, an Assistant for a large IT components company, was asked to deliver a presentation to the senior board. Halfway through her presentation, she realised she had forgotten to include an important graphic. When Mary, the CEO, queried it, Jenny apologised for her mistake. However, Mary lost her temper and criticised and humiliated her in front of everyone – leaving Jenny both hurt and embarrassed before her colleagues. During the following week, relations deteriorated further to the extent that Jenny felt excluded from meetings and eventually felt so devalued that she resigned and joined a competitor company nearby. Regrettably, a common story that happens all too often.

In this situation, Mary could have maintained the relationship by calling a meeting the next day with Jenny to express regret for having humiliated her in public. Instead, the company lost an experienced Assistant who had been with the organisation for many years, and now had the expensive and time-wasting job of having to advertise for, then interview and hire a new person who would have no knowledge of the company.

‘Sorry’ is a powerful word – and often a very essential one. I am not talking about a cursory ‘I’m sorry’, but rather a genuine apology. But why is this so important?

An Apology Opens a Dialogue

This gives one side the opportunity to admit to an error of judgement and the other person the space and time to communicate their own feelings in response. When you apologise, you acknowledge that you may have acted or spoken in a way that was unacceptable and that could have caused unnecessary damage to a relationship. A meeting helps you to rebuild the trust so that your relationship can be re-established without any permanent harm.

When you admit your mistake, you restore dignity to the person who has been hurt. An apology given with sincerity shows that you take responsibility for your own actions. This will not only help your own self-respect and confidence but enhance your reputation. Any fool can shout, but it takes strength of character to have the courage to acknowledge a mistake and to try to rectify it. We all make mistakes – the difference is what we do about them!

In the case study, Jenny left the company because she felt that her reputation and self-respect had been damaged beyond repair. But at other times, not every individual will leave and the situation can become worse over time, causing further damage to team dynamics and productivity. If you are seen as someone who makes mistakes but will never apologise for them, then that can cause dissent within the team, and members will start to feel insecure and not want to work alongside you.

So Why Is It So Hard to Apologise?

It takes courage to apologise and admit that you did or said something wrong. You may think that people won’t respect you, but exactly the opposite is true because, in fact, you will invariably gain more respect from people when you apologise. To admit to making a mistake is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

Four Steps to Making a Genuine Apology

1. Express regret. The two simple words ‘I’m sorry’ will go a long way. This will often be sufficient, provided they are said with sincerity.

2. Admit your error and accept any consequences that go with it. Try to establish empathy with the other person and wonder how you might have felt in their shoes.

3. Identify what you can do to put the mistake right and ensure that you implement whatever action is necessary – not forgetting that empty promises will not help.

4. Learn from what has happened and try not to let the same situation happen again.

Finally, when you apologise, don’t try to shift the blame onto someone else or make excuses, as that will just seem as if you are trying to abdicate responsibility. A genuine apology, in good time, is an honest communication that can make a big, and immediate, difference to how you are seen by others and your relationship with them.

Carole Spiers FISMA, FPSA, MIHPE FISMA, FPSA, MIHPE is a leading international Business Stress Consultant and currently serves as the Chair of the International Stress Management Association UK (ISMAUK). On their behalf, she founded Stress Awareness Day ... (Read More)

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