(Disclaimer: If you are one of those people that apologizes so easily that someone has told you to stop apologizing so much – you know who you are – this blog is NOT for you. Share it with someone else instead!)
Some of you know that I am a co-leader of my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. It’s wonderful work most of the time, and meetings with the girls are some of my favorite days.
But there is one person I have to interact with often that makes this role feel more difficult than it should. This person is an adult that is sometimes involved with the troop. Let’s call him Keith.
Keith is busy. So busy that he doesn’t read emails that are sent to him, continually drops balls or breaks promises, and runs on his own clock. We all know a Keith. In fact, a few of us might live with or work with a few Keiths.
But the one thing that Keith does, over and over, is blame others for his messy behavior. It is his wife’s fault, his work’s fault, the girl that works for him, blah, blah, blah.
That blaming, dear friends. It gets me every time. I get angry in my CORE.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand busy. I understand that communication in marriage is hard. I totally get that sometimes you work with people that make mistakes.
BUT, those people do not cause you or I be messy. Our reactions and choices in the moment create the messiness.
And here is the kicker. Most of us, when we are messy and it affects other people, we apologize. We realize that our actions were inappropriate, recognize that we have messed up, and make an honest effort to admit our wrongs and tell each other it won’t happen again.
True, heart-felt apologies matter, people! It means something if you are able to look at another person and truly express your wrong doing. We are all messy with messy lives, and we all make a lot of mistakes. It’s ok. Admitting your wrongs makes you more human and real.
This matters at work A LOT. We mistakenly think of apologies as something reserved for our personal lives. At work, we are supposed to get things right, know everything as we are doing it, and push through the obstacles without a hitch in our step. I see this over and over at work – especially as people get into more management level roles and feel more eyes watching them.
But one of the best things you can show your team, your boss, and yourself is that you will own your mistakes. Honesty, transparency and trustworthiness are three of the most important traits in a good leader or teammate, and ‘admitting your wrongs’ is a key component in each of them.
It’s impossible to navigate our work or personal lives without making mistakes. And if you refuse to admit to yourself and others when you have taken part of a mistake, people won’t trust you or want to follow you.
So how do we truly own our mistakes and apologize in a way that matters? Well, let’s pretend I was late to meet my friend for lunch. What should I say? Let’s read these two statements and reflect on the difference:
“I’m sorry my GPS didn’t tell me the right information and it caused me to get here late.”
“I’m sorry I was late. I didn’t mean to waste your time. I will do better next time we schedule something with each other.”
Same issue, same situation… but the apologies are very different.
The first one still contains a component of external blaming (damn GPS!), and doesn’t take true ownership of my mistake (“it caused me”). There is also no acknowledgement of how my negative actions might affect my friend, or how I plan to change this for our future engagements.
The second apology contains three key components:
- What I am sorry for (Being late)
- A recognition that it has a negative impact on a person or situation (Waste your time)
- What I will do
And did you notice that there is no tone or phrasing that sound like I’m blaming anything or anyone? I’m just straight up eating it. Eating my mistake, and the terrible habit of me assuming that Waze or Google Maps will always steer me correctly, and my tendency to pack in too many things before I leave for an appointment, etc, etc. That stuff is ALL on me. No one else.
And isn’t that all most of us need? Most of us need to know that our boss, husband or friend has fully recognized his or her fault and will try to be a better person the next time the situation arises.
Real apologies have power. Use them wisely and fully, friends.