The Power of an Apology

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By: Shari Dalton

January 25, 2019

By: Shari Dalton

I want to talk about something that seems to be an epidemic in our country.  I don’t know if it’s our current political climate, or stressful lives we live in general, or maybe people are just choosing to be bigger assholes than ever.  I’m not sure which, or maybe a little of both.

Here’s the thing…when did an apology ever become an unpopular thing? When did people stop saying “I’m sorry” when something unpleasant happened or they messed up? I don’t get it!  But it’s really something that eats at me.

I believe that, contrary to popular belief, offering an apology doesn’t mean you’re weak.  It doesn’t mean that you’ve accepted responsibility.  It’s a sign of compassion and kindness. It shows that you care that your actions or the actions of your organization have affected someone in a negative way even if it was unintentional.  I’d like to think that most people and organizations are good. And when apologies are necessary, they are the result of something unintentional.  And I like to think that good people and good organizations can offer an apology even if they don’t necessarily feel at fault for something that’s occurred, because regardless of fault, someone is suffering or upset.

Surely you can guess by my tone, that recently I’ve experienced a few unfortunate events where a someone had the perfect opportunity to offer an apology but instead chose to offer reasons why either A.) my feelings weren’t valid, B.) it must be my fault for misinterpreting information, or C.) no apology was necessary because company policy or protocol was followed and they don’t make the policies.

I’ll give you one example of those recent events.  I was on a flight that was experiencing mechanical issues.  This caused delay after delay and ultimately when I got to my layover destination, I’d missed the last connecting flight to Omaha.  It was about 12:30am.  I’d been at an airport since 4pm that day-I desperately wanted to get home. But, I get it, planes experience mechanical issues in the same way that vehicles do and to be honest, I’d rather fly safe than sorry.  I ended up staying the night at the airport.  I wasn’t upset about that necessarily.

What did upset me, was a lack of compassion and empathy the gate agents demonstrated. They seemed to care less about the passengers, like myself, as they locked up and went home to sleep in their own beds for the night.  As we asked for help or advice, we received eye-rolls and pointed answers, and never at any point an apology.   It would have been really nice to hear, at some point “I’m really sorry this has happened, but we’re glad we got you here safe and sound tonight.  Our airport is nice and “x” area here has the best/cleanest area for resting tonight.  The coffee shops open at “x” time.  Our reps return at “x” time or you can call “x” if you need anything overnight.” But there was none of that.  And certainly, not an apology.

In our training, we spend a significant amount of time talking about conflict resolution, both internally with our peers and externally with our clients and customers. And the number one thing we talk about, first and foremost, is an apology.  Before you address anything, offer up an apology.  There’s a lot of power in an apology!  Apologize that something has happened to your customer, or that they are having to go through something.  Apologize to your coworker that what you’ve said has hurt them or caused them to feel some way.  Apologize that a company policy or protocol caused additional stress.  The words “I’m sorry” can easily de-escalate an uncomfortable situation.  Those words are more powerful than you’d give them credit for.

Then….and only then, can you address the issue and work to resolve it if there’s a resolution. And if there isn’t, at least you’ve shown some ounce of compassion or empathy for the affected party.

I can’t understand why it’s so hard.  I can’t understand why it’s become seemingly more instinctual to defend, and then blame. Or worse, just make excuses and rely on “company protocol”.  Just because you’re not in a position to change something, doesn’t mean you can’t apologize and be empathetic.

I’m a business owner, a customer, and a client. I get it-things go wrong.  Even when you try to do everything right, plan perfectly, implement strategically, sometimes they just don’t go the way you want them to. That is OK! We are all human, even when it comes to business!

Please, I beg of you – the next time someone comes to you with a concern or complaint, before you address it or try to fix it, or whatever other reactions come to mind, don’t!  Stop and apologize first.  Show some compassion, and then work to find a resolution if there is one.  I guarantee you, that apology will make a greater difference in your desired outcome than whatever other steps you were considering taking first.

Is there a time when an apology would have made a difference for you? I’d love to hear it!

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