Apologies

There’s a quality that doesn’t come out in CVs that with time I find more and more essential in the workplace. That quality is the ability and willingness to admit fault and apologise.

I’m not sure whether the trait is becoming less prevalent as society changes; or whether I’m becoming more aware with time of its lacking.

Knowing when you’re wrong, acknowledging when you’re wrong. These traits are hugely important in building strong relationships with colleagues, clients and suppliers.

As for knowing when you’re wrong, I don’t think there are too many problems here. People generally know when they’re at fault. They may lie to themselves in order to create a version of reality that they can portray to the outside world. But usually, deep within, they’ll be conscious that they screwed up. No, it’s the acknowledgment of the error that is at issue.

I’ve worked with a few people in my career to date, both male and female, who are hopeless at this. Sometimes, even when the fault is clear for the world to see, the admission and the apology don’t come.

And I think there are two related issues at play: the human aspect and the career aspect.

First, the human side. People simply want to save face. Human nature is to be as good as you can be. And admitting error shows that you’ve failed somewhere. How on earth can that be good?

And second, the career aspect. Making an error might go against you in the promotion rounds. It might mean your contract isn’t extended. Or worse, if significant enough, it might mean you’re terminated. The workplace can be highly charged and competitive. And it’s often not easy to step up on this front.

But everyone makes mistakes. And once the mistake has been made, the stronger person is the one that admits to it and faces its consequences, as opposed to the one that hides behind falsehood.

Often, admission of blame sets things up for an open and honest discussion about how best to proceed. It’s amazing sometimes to see how this plays out. Try it. Before the apology, there’s an error that no one’s admitting to, which can create a highly charged, confrontational environment. Throw in the apology, and suddenly the confrontation disappears. Often, the other person is slightly thrown by the admission, and it creates a pleasing atmosphere, for both them and you. The change can be massive, and is often instant.

Failure to admit error delays the resolution of the issue at hand. It creates animosity between the parties involved. And it taints their relationship going forward—both with one another and with you.

On the odd occasion, I’ll even apologise when I’m *not* at fault. It’s generally an apology on behalf of a department or business unit. But it comes from me, and is worded in the first person. In these instances, I consider the benefit of a smoothed path outweighs the personal drawback of stepping into the frame.

So go on. Try it. As well as being the right thing to do, it can be rather therapeutic.

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