Stop Apologizing

One of your team members promised they would do something for a client.  They got distracted with other work, and it was not done on time.  The very upset client contacts you.

You meet with the employee.  You remind them of the commitment they made to do the work excellently on time.  You explain the client just called and unloaded on you because of the employee’s mistake.  You can’t help yourself.  You speak in an angry, accusative tone of voice.  Your body language says, “Don’t mess with me.”

Hey, isn’t this reasonable?  The employee messed up.

The employee responds by lying.  (You can decide specifically what they lied about.  Maybe they said they did part of the work, all of the work, communicated with the client, or something else...)

You get madder.  You’re not screaming, but it’s clear by the tone of your voice and your body language that you’re very angry.  You show them documentation that proves the employee is lying, or at least not giving you all the information because if they did, the facts would convict them of the mistake.

At this point, the employee admits the mistake.  They agree they shouldn’t have behaved that way.  They commit to jump on the situation immediately, and have it resolved by 3 PM.  You tell them to notify you after the work’s done, the client’s been notified, and any of their questions have been answered.  The employee agrees to do this.

What’s missing?

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A sincere apology.

The employee made a big mistake.  Then they lied about it, or at least did not give you all the information.  To fully own the situation, they should have apologized to you.  How could they not have the decency and professionalism to apologize?

The answer is often because you don’t apologize to them consistently after your mistakes.

This issue is compounded when their life experience includes parents, peers, other bosses, coworkers, clients, vendors, and possibly others who haven’t set an example of sincerely apologizing to them, when it’s appropriate.  Here are some reasons why people may not apologize when they make a mistake.

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People don’t apologize because they:

1.      Think apologizing makes them appear weak.  They fear how they appear to others.  This may lead them to focus on where they were right, and downplay any mistakes they made.  This may extend into justifying or not owning the mistake, and/or not apologizing, by telling themselves the other person’s mistakes are much worse.  Therefore, they don’t take responsibility for their behavior and/or apologize.

2.      May have low self-esteem.  Sincerely admitting their mistake and apologizing reinforces or deepens their shame.

3.      Feel the other person never apologizes to them.

4.      Can’t do it sincerely.  For them, it would be fake.

5.      May not be able to separate the apology for their behavior from their character.  They believe they’re a person of good character, yet incorrectly are convinced people of good character don’t make mistakes.

6.      Fear an apology opens the door to additional condemnation from the other person.  It’s not safe to apologize.

7.      Are trying to manage their emotions.  It’s more comfortable for them to be in denial and to protect themselves let angry, judgmental, feelings take over.  They may isolate themselves rather than deepen the relationship with the other person by letting their guard down with an apology.

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As the title of this post indicates, you can stop apologizing, or never start apologizing, depending on where you are in life.  However, this is not a healthy strategy or behavioral tactic.

Did you notice the need for not one, but two apologies in the example above?

The other apology needed is from the leader.  The leader may have used all the correct words, given all the appropriate details, and accurately confirmed what had happened, what needed to happen, and agreed when it would happen. 

However, the leader got mad.  The leader was threatening verbally and in their body language.

We like to say, “Whoever gets mad, loses.”

In the example above, the leader needs to apologize for getting angry, their tone of voice, and possibly their body language.  It didn’t help the situation.  It made it worse.  Most likely, the leader’s behavior was also contrary to your company values.

If there’s 100% of a problem and you are 4.3% wrong, then own your 4.3% mistake.  Don’t dismiss your mistake by saying the other person was 95.7% wrong.  Also, don’t go to the other extreme by taking responsibility for their mistakes.  Then, you’ve foolishly stolen this opportunity for them to learn.

Have the courage and confidence to fully take responsibility of any area where you were mistaken.  You’ll find this encourages others to more comfortably take responsibility and apologize. 

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You and your people may need some guidance on how to do this.  It might be a new, healthier path to take in life. Rather than play the victim, people can take responsibility and apologize for their mistakes.  One place where we teach how to forgive and apologize is our Workplace Drama course in Dave’s Charm School.  We also work with teams to develop habits, systems, and processes that enable them to work more effectively in life and be more fulfilled in their work.

Leaders have opportunities to respectfully and empathetically teach people better habits.  However, you have to be a role model of the behaviors you’re teaching them to develop.  They learn more from your actions, than from your words.

Yes, you can stop apologizing.  It’s an option.

It’s just not the best option.

Let me put it bluntly:  Not apologizing is a foolish decision that limits your growth, hurts relationships, and negatively affects the lives of others.  It’s selfish, and hurts you the most.

Instead, develop habits to take a Goldilocks approach to apologies.  Don’t apologize too often.  Don’t apologize too little.  Simply take responsibility for your actions and apologize every time it’s appropriate.

Contact us (info@manage2win.com) if you’d like to develop better relational habits yourself, for your team, or both.