What Are You Apologizing For?

Change brings out the best, and worst in all of us. When things are moving fast, processes and next steps are blurry and highly prized outcomes are way off in the distance, some of us can get a bit testy. Feelings can be raw when the will to achieve is being challenged by the enormity of the task.

The truth is, when life or work is fast -n -furious, we make mistakes, faux pas, miss-steps and miss-speaks; we 'forget' important deadlines, drop the ball, miss-calculate or step out of character. In short, we screw up sometimes!

Maybe you had the same kind of mom I did. I'd be playing with my siblings and 'accidentally' hit them too hard. My mom would appear out of nowhere, stand me face to face with the offended and say, 'Now Peggy, say you're sorry'. I'd dutifully drop my head in fake remorse and mumble 'sorry'. I was in that moment, of course, anything but sorry.

The problem with saying 'sorry' as a kid was that I believed that sorry was synonymous with guilt, and that by saying I was sorry I was admitting that I had intended to hurt my sibling, which was, only occasionally the case.

My intentions as a child were often suspect. But as an adult, for the most part, my intentions are honourable. And, like most of you, I don't set out to be hurtful; I don't try to infuriate those around me. But, sometimes I know I do and I know I need to apologize. So, I've learned to see apologizing from a different perspective.

I think there are three Professional Apologies that need to be liberally given in the workplace:

Responsibility Apology:
This is when you take responsibility for having hurt someone - whether you meant to or not. Simply put, this apology is for when; someone got hurt (ruffled, delayed, embarrassed, etc.), you were in some way the cause - and you regret your actions. You own up and ask for forgiveness.

Acknowledgement Apology:
This is when your actions were justified, necessary or pure and yet the person reacted by getting hurt or upset in some way. This apology is an acknowledgement that you are sorry that they are hurt, but don't necessarily regret what you did or didn't do that may have brought them to this point. This apology can work for change leaders that have to make those tough decisions that impact people in negative ways.

Empathetic Apology:
This apology is essentially - I had nothing to do with your situation, but I can see how upsetting it is to you and I'm truly sorry you're having to go through what you're going through. This apology is pure gold for sales people or those savvy customer service reps that need to turn a raging consumer into a customer for life by diffusing a volatile situation.

These apologies are free and they work! Simple words that take responsibility, acknowledge impact and/or express empathy, can diffuse anger, sooth hurts and smooth ruffled feathers.

I encourage you to give the Professional Apology a spin. See if there are circumstances where you need to step past your childhood version of 'sorry' and step into a more grown-up version of fence mending.