We all make mistakes. Some are quite small and others are too big to hide. With all this practice at making mistakes we should know how to manage the aftermath; how to pick up the pieces, solve the problem, make it right. Alas, it’s not that easy to apologize.
It’s human nature to avoid responsibility. Every child learns that pointing the finger at others can sometimes get them off the hook. The blame game is easier than facing the truth. Seasoned leaders are also tempted to be less than forthright when caught in the inevitable misstep. We can duck the issue but eventually it will catch up with us.
Too often our apologies sound more like an excuse. “I’m so sorry you feel that way,” fails to acknowledge your culpability. While you may indeed feel sorry, most customers or colleagues don’t want your pity during a time of crisis. They would rather hear you accept responsibility and fix the problem or repair the relationship.
Here’s a better way to apologize. Say something like, “I really messed up with that [fill in the issue] and I’m truly sorry. I’m anxious to make this right and here’s how I’m going to do that.”
Don’t dwell on what caused the initial problem. Focus instead on correcting the situation so the employee or customer knows you recognize how important your relationship really is. If the other person is across town or around the world, consider having a face-to-face meeting with them. There is no substitute for human contact, especially if the breach of trust was substantial or the potential for fallout is high.
When you apologize keep these tips in mind.
- It should feel like a genuine conversation not a prepared presentation or scripted dialogue.
- Look the person in the eye, smile and send a clear message that you are present with them in this tough issue.
- Listen to any concerns that may surface even while you are trying to make everything right.
- Customers and employees need to sense your humility is genuine, not forced.
A warm, sincere apology could mean the difference between retaining a valued customer and losing their business forever.
In today’s changing world the most significant competitive edge leaders possess is themselves; their own emotional intelligence. When mistakes happen, and they will, it could be how you apologize that saves the day.