You have probably heard older generations talk about how personal ethics seemed stronger “back in the day,” hearing phrases like, “A man’s handshake was his word” or “The deal was made on a handshake.” Certainly it seems that in our not so distant past a person’s word was a contract and something to be respected. Today, we have a bad tendency to be less careful with our words, saying things we do not mean or making comments without thinking them through. In a world of high competition, high expectations and even contentious litigation, saying things without thinking can cause a variety of problems. One such thoughtless act that can damage relations with customers or employees is to make an off-handed apology that you do not sincerely mean.
In every workplace – disagreements happen. Between boss and employee, team leader and customer, and simply between co-working peers, humans see things in different ways and often do not agree. Additionally, as humans we are just that, human; we are imperfect and sometimes make mistakes, miss deadlines, and simply mess things up. When issues arise it is how we deal with them that matters. Placing blame accomplishes little, as does “crying over spilt milk,” as the saying goes. Rather, the best situation is handled directly, with a new plan and thoughtful communications. Unfortunately, when dealing with such situations too many people say things without thinking, making either angry utterances or ill- conceived apologies, which simply cause more problems than they solve. Among the most potentially dangerous of these thoughtless utterances are off-handed apologies.
Saying You Are Sorry
An apology is a very important and valuable tool, when wielded correctly. A sincere apology can mend bridges like nothing else, stopping small issues from growing out of control with just a few words. The problems with apologies, however, are two-fold. First, some people have difficulties apologizing, even when they are at fault. If you are not too young to remember, think about the TV show Happy Days; remember how the Fonze was physically incapable of even speaking the phrase “I’m sorry”? This seems to be an actual problem for many people, particularly men in leadership positions. With a credible apology you show that you are a real person, that you recognize your role in something not going well, and that you respect the fact that this issue has caused hardship for the other. A good apology helps you work towards rebuilding trust.
Five Tips to an Effective Apology
Only apologize when you truly mean it. An off-hand, insincere apology will only make the person more upset and further damage your credibility. When you apologize remember these five tips:
- Be timely; apologize as soon after a transgression as is possible
- Be specific, say what you are apologizing for and show awareness of how your actions impacted others
- Be brief and do not bring it up again; no one wants a long, drawn out event
- Do not use an apology as a tactic, avoid saying, “I’m sorry to ask you this, but…”
- Be sincere; only apologize when you are truly sorry
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