I rarely find absolute truths in life. I usually recoil when I read them.
However, here's an absolute truth I could accept:
You cannot Google-bomb your way out of an oil spill...The news, like the oil you spilt, will leak out and up. Link.
Here's one for marriage:
If you're a golfer, and your wife uses your favorite putter to bash in your car's windshield, when your doors are unlocked ...she's not trying to rescue you. link
Here's the one I want to talk about:
Apologies are one of the glues that keep us all connected.
That's our families, friends, weekend sports leagues, book clubs, local bars, our churches, our business, our schools, communities...elections, country, world.
The big difference with this truism from the other two is it will remain true long after Google bombs and golf courses disappear.
Throughout my life, I have made a few mistakes. Maybe, you have as well. (Maybe you're thinking reading this post is one.) The truth is I have made so-o-o many mistakes at so many points in my life that I finally learned a few things about mistakes and apologies.
One thing my mistakes have taught me is what an apology can do to correct a mistake, to mend a hurt feeling, to reconnect what's been disconnected.
But we all know how tough it can be to make an apology. Much less one that sticks like glue, that re-binds us to each other.
Here are my 3 steps, 8 principles for apologies that stick.
Step One. I start with your reasonable aspiration or hoped-for future, as Erika Andersen described. My reasonable aspiration is to repair the damage, re-connect the severed connection, which I created with my mistake.
Step Two. I apologize.
Step Three. I make sure I learn from that mistake and progress until a new mistake occurs. Stir and repeat. I'm still stirring and repeating, lest anyone think this is a final document.
That first step seems obvious.
That last step is the inspiration for scores of books and posts and articles and videos. Very important, very inspiring, very much missing as we look at our current culture and economic landscape. But it is all beyond the scope of this post.
So, let's talk about that 2nd step: I Apologize. Much has been written about learning from mistakes, the importance to embrace mistakes and failure in our path to success. Much remains to be written about handling apologies.
Here are 9 principles for creating, delivering, communicating apologies that replace and refresh the gule that binds; apologies that stick.
* Make it personal
Scripts and the blah-blah...do not work here. Scripts work for routine scenes. Scripts work when your writers or actors are bored with a meaningless plot. Scripts work for companies who de-humanize their employees by seeing them as unable and untrustworthy to conduct a meaningful conversation with a customer.
Blah-blah works when you don't care. You say in effect, talk to the hand not the face. The thrill and the glue has long since gone. And you want your audience to understand that, too.
Apologies arise because the script is not routine, and the plot remains meaningful.
Apologies are possible in companies where they honor the dignity of their stakeholders and give them the tools, including permission and encouragement, to be human, speak human, speak with humans, and re-glue that damaged relationship with an apology...of their own words.
An apology only works if you speak directly from your heart to theirs. Scripts and blah-blah offer barriers.
Yeah, it's tough. I'm not great at it. But when I do, it works.
* Let them speak.
They earned the right to speak. You gave them the platform. Let them speak. Show they are heard. That shows you care. Any time you grant the right to speak to someone you honor them. Honor them with the right to speak. Yes, it will be uncomfortable, painful, awkward. But you earned the right to that speech, too.
* Make it immediately
I am quick to apologize. Some see it as a sign of insincerity. It's not. I'm just familiar with mistakes and the need to apologize.
Immediately means only when you understand how what you did offended or wronged or created havoc in their lives. Immediately is when those you offended are ready to hear it, accept it, embrace it.
Do not be late.
* Deliver your apology on the same stage in front of the same audience.
If you wrong someone in a public setting, you only honor them with an apology made in that same setting. Seriously.
Granted, a self-indulgent, PR-agent-driven drivel on the same stage is not what we discuss.
And an explicit apology in some cases only further disrupts and distracts the audience with no benefit achieved.
But if you wronged someone in public, you have to right apologize and right that wrong in public, too.
* Make it greater than the offense.
How do you do that?
Well, you ask. You ask them what does it take to make this right?
As CEO of a company I was called on to apologize for our service failures. There was no requirement. No one expected it of me.
I would call the customer. Identify myself. Acknowledge quickly that we had really handled this badly. I think my phrase was
We really hosed this...[fill in the blank].
Then I was silent. See the first step on this list.
After they spoke, I asked this question:
What does it take to make things right? What do I need to do to make you whole?
And then I listened.
* Make it honest.
Seems obvious, right? It is the obvious that we overlook, too often. How many times have you heard, seen, read or received a dishonest apology. Makes you feel dirty, doesn't it? Or adds to our cynicism?
How many times have we offered an apology two shades lighter than honest? Raised my hand, here. Yeah, we felt dirty. Our cynicism grows as does our disrespect for those we offered it.
Don't apologize if you don't mean it.
Make it honest.
* Don't quibble, equivocate, hedge, justify or make excuses.
How many times have we heard the non-apology apology? It usually starts with "If..." If I have offended anyone then I apologize....
Pathetic. Honestly, I would respect those speakers more if they did not apologize.
Man up. Admit it.
Yeah I was stupid. Who knows what I was thinking? Clearly I wasn't. I offended you. I'm sorry.
* Don't misdirect, point your fingers at others or try to change the topic.
Just because all the kids put their head in the furnace does it mean you have to? Yeah, you heard your mom ask you this. Well, it applies to adults, too.
* Practice. Practice. Practice.
Apologizing is a skill like any others. You need to practice it regularly. Frankly, I see more opportunities to apologize as I get older.
As I apologize sooner, with more grace and meaning, I continue to improve. And I see better results, too. That's what it's about.
I hope this helps. I hope you do not feel it was a mistake to read this far.
They are the result of 55+ years of research, failure, theorems and hypothesis. I'll keep researching, too. I'll create many opportunities, I'm sure, to further explore this area.
I can see two responses to this post.
A. Shoulders tighten, head turns just a bit and your finger hovers over the back key on your browser.
B. Curiosity. You think 'huh, this could be interesting'.
That's from strangers.
Those who know me a long time may have two responses:
A. Who are you kidding? You...you(!?!) share tips on how to apologize properly? Really?
B. Huh. Interesting. I know you could do it.
That's what change is about: Moving forward. Some need more time to believe. I apologize for making that process a bit longer than it need be.
And that's the absolute truth.