The Power of Apology

There’s an undeniable and often overlooked power of apology that everyone can benefit from mastering.

I’m not talking about unwarranted apologies that stem from a lack of confidence, such as apologies people offer, as I wrote, “when they’ve done nothing wrong, undercutting their own opinions and ideas with disclaimers, and offering excuses for what they say and do – sometimes even before they say it or do it.“

This time I’m talking about apologies you owe for actual – even if inadvertent – transgressions. I’m also including apologies you should make when things go wrong, even when you’re not directly at fault. For a wide variety of “bad news,” such apologies can:

  • Add to the respect and credibility you receive from others,
  • Strengthen, rather than weaken, relationships, and even
  • Position you for greater opportunities and challenges in times to come.

Here are some helpful ideas regarding the beneficial power of apology:

What’s the Power of Apology

Offering a heartfelt apology when appropriate sends a powerful message about your humanity, in particular highlighting your empathy for others and your humility about yourself.

This is true primarily because all of us recognize, at some level, that everyone makes mistakes. As a result, owning up to your errors is a straightforward acknowledgement that you see yourself as part of the human family.

What’s more, apologizing when things go wrong helps build a connection between you and those who suffer from the ill-effects of the “bad news” event or situation, even when you’re not directly at fault.

It’s also powerful because there are too many people who feel reluctant to apologize. A willing apology – when appropriate – automatically places you head and shoulders above that crowd.

Be Quick to Apologize

An apology delayed is an opportunity lost. When bad news hits the fan, the time to apologize – if appropriate – is generally “now.”

A big reason to be quick is that delaying an apology allows the damage and fall out from the bad news to accumulate. It also allows for people’s resentment to build up against whoever or whatever caused the problem. For both these reasons, your delayed apology will have to weigh against more of this negativity, whereas your quick apology will intercept and possibly prevent at least some of it.

Apology Positions You More Positively

Whether or not you’re personally responsible for the bad news, apologizing to those likely to suffer from it automatically positions you farther to the “good guy” side of the spectrum. Without an apology, or with an inadequate one, people can all too easily associate you with the problem – an association that can linger throughout the rest of your work and your life.

Your apology shows that you, too, are suffering from the ill-effects of the bad news event or situation. This tends to turn people’s hearts toward you, rather than away.

When you bolster your apology with some positive action to remedy the effects of the bad news, you multiply the favorable impact of your apology.

Apology Pre-Empts a Cover-up

Any reading of history shows that attempting a cover-up usually turns out more damaging than the original error. That’s another reason why embracing the power of apology is a beneficial strategy: it immediately precludes any possibility of sweeping the problem under the rug.

A meaningful apology includes a frank discussion of the problem, as well as its causes and your role – if any – in it. After a good apology, the best course of action is repair and remediation, followed by structural changes to try and prevent a re-occurrence of the same thing. These are all positive steps that people will appreciate.

One reason the power of apology is so largely unrecognized, of course, is that many of us see apology as an admission of weakness. This is totally wrong.

In actuality, appropriate apology rests on solid foundations: strength of character, self-esteem, empathy, a willingness to take responsibility, and a feeling of confidence that we can help to make things better. Most people instinctively recognize these wellsprings of apology, and ultimately feel closer to and better about the people who are willing to offer them.

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