How to Apologize Well!

One thing is for certain—we will all have many opportunities to get better at making apologies!  

All of us have observed apologies that just didn’t make the cut!  They started out well but ended up feeling more like explanations for why a person feels right or justified.  The worst apologies are the ones that quickly get off the rails and turn to blame…not self-blame…but blaming everything and everyone for wrongdoing but themselves. “I’m sorry” are two of the hardest words to say, they seem to be missing from our vocabulary!

Making an apology is an art form.  It takes practice to get it right!  The challenge we face is that it takes both practice and humility to do it well. 

At our recent Global Leadership Summit, Danny Meyer (New York City Restauranteur, CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group) gave a memorable Talk about how to thrive in leadership and to make a meaningful apology.

The 4-A’s of Making an Apology

  1. Be Aware of your mistake. This takes a boat load of honesty and self-awareness.  When we operate from a place of “Me, make a mistake? That’s not possible!” We live in denial and rob ourselves of the truth.  If we drive blind, we can be sure to cause a wreck.  Opening out eyes to our own weakness, and failings is a big step forward in apologizing well.  

  2.  Acknowledge it. This takes guts and a large measure of humility.  We fear acknowledging our mistakes because we think others will think poorly of us.  The opposite is the case.  When we own our mistakes, others appreciate the fact that we are ‘in touch’ with reality and that we have the courage to call ourselves out.

  3. Apologize. We can want to do it, we can even plan to do it; but if we never get around to doing it - then it’s just an unrealized intention.  The act of sending the email, making the call, texting the person, or making the appointment is the next step that will determine if the relationship advances or retreats.

  4. Act on it (fix it). Taking responsibility and saying ‘sorry’ for something is critical.  Following up the words of apology with acts intended to ‘make things right’ is what demonstrates we are serious about moving forward with people that we care about.  When we fix things - we stay in step with the Rabbis of the ancient world that said we are all here in order to ‘repair the world.’  Repairing ourselves sometimes starts with an apology offered to someone else.

 So how well are you doing at owning your stuff?  When was the last time you ate some humble pie and offered up a generous piece of apology to someone else?  We’re not heroes when we apologize, we’re just becoming the humans God wants us to be.

Written by Dave Larmour