The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements

sorryI’m pretty good at apologizing and I think it’s primarily because of two reasons:

  1. I’ve been married for over 28 years.
  2. I mess up a lot.

That means I get a lot of practice apologizing. I’ve logged way more than 10,000 hours perfecting my craft, so by Malcolm Gladwell’s measurement, I’m pretty much the world’s foremost expert on apologies. The fact my wife is a loving and forgiving woman doesn’t hurt, either.

More than 28 years experience has shown me there are eight essential elements of an effective apology:

1. Accept responsibility for your actions – If you screwed up, admit it. Don’t try to shirk your responsibility or shift the blame to someone else. Put your pride aside and own your behavior. This first step is crucial to restoring trust with the person you offended.

2. Pick the right time to apologize – It’s a cliché, but true – timing is everything. You can follow the other seven guidelines to a tee, but if you pick a bad time to deliver your apology, all of your hard work will be for naught. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to delay your apology to allow the offended person time to process his/her emotions. Once he/she is mentally and emotionally ready to hear your apology, make sure you have the necessary privacy for the conversation and the physical environment is conducive to the occasion.

3. Say ‘”I’m sorry,” not “I apologize” – What’s the difference? The word sorry expresses remorse and sorrow for the harm caused the offended person, whereas apologize connotes regret for your actions. There’s a big difference between the two. See #4 for the reason why this is important.

4. Be sincere and express empathy for how you hurt the other person – Along with saying I’m sorry, this step is critical for letting the offended person know you acknowledge, understand, and regret the hurt you caused. Make it short and simple: “I’m sorry I was late for our dinner date. I know you were looking forward to the evening, and being late disappointed you and made you feel unimportant. I feel horrible about hurting you that way.”

5. Don’t use conditional language – Get rid of the words if and but in your apologies. Saying “I’m sorry if…” is a half-ass, conditional apology that’s dependent on whether or not the person was offended. Don’t put it on the other person. Just man up and say “I’m sorry.” When you add the word but at the end of your apology (“I’m sorry, but…”) you’re starting down the road of excuses for your behavior. Don’t go there. See #6.

6. Don’t offer excuses or explanations – Keep your apology focused on what you did, how it made the other person feel, and what you’re going to do differently in the future. Don’t try to make an excuse for your behavior or rationalize why it happened. If there is a valid reason that explains your behavior, it will likely come out during the apology discussion. But let the other person go there first, not you.

7. Listen – This is perhaps the most important point of the eight and one that’s often overlooked. After you’ve made your apology, close your mouth and listen. Let the offended person share his/her feelings, vent, cry, yell, laugh, scream…whatever.  Acknowledge the person’s feelings (“I understand you’re upset”…”I see I disappointed you”…”I know it was hurtful”), but resist the urge to keep explaining yourself or apologizing over and over again. I’m not suggesting you become an emotional punching bag for someone who is inappropriately berating you; that’s not healthy for either party. But many times the awkwardness and discomfort of apologizing causes us to keep talking when we’d be better off listening.

8. Commit to not repeating the behavior – Ultimately, an apology is only as effective as your attempt to not repeat the behavior. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, but a sincere and earnest apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior that caused harm in the first place. Depending on the severity of the offense, this may include implementing a plan or process such as counseling or accountability groups. For minor offenses it’s as simple as an intentional effort to not repeat the hurtful behavior.

So there you go. The Great 8 of giving effective apologies, honed from years of groveling…err…apologizing for my mistakes. What do you think? Are there other tips you would add? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Posted in Apology, Communication, Forgiveness, Relationships, Repairing Trust | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

5 Common Leadership Behaviors That Crush The Spirits of Employees

crushedI admit it. Sometimes when I’m under the gun at work and feeling the pressure of all my responsibilities, I can get tunnel vision about accomplishing my own goals and forget how my behavior is influencing others. It’s not that I’m trying to be insensitive to people, I’m just not being mindful or intentional in my actions.

I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. It happens to every leader from time to time when we’re under stress and reacting in the moment. It’s in these occasions that we have a tendency to focus on the objectives of the task and minimize the people concerns. Who cares how people feel as long as the job gets done, right? Well, consistently behaving this way may help you check items off your to-do list, but it can come at the cost of crushing the spirits of your team members in the process. Here are five common spirit-crushing behaviors leaders should avoid:

Micromanaging – Control is the opposite of trust, and micromanaging sends the message to your team members that you don’t trust them to do their jobs. It’s common for leaders to exert control when under stress because they feel more secure being able to directly influence the outcome. However, micromanaging saps the initiative of your team to the point where they stop taking responsibility because they know you’re going to step in and take charge.

Demeaning Others – Leaders demean others through careless comments that degrade their dignity, status, or character. An example is when a leader says or does things that communicates people are “less than” they really are. Stereotypical examples are asking an administrative assistant to pick up your dry cleaning or get you a cup of coffee, tasks clearly outside their job description.

Ignoring Others’ Contributions – We all have an innate need to be appreciated and it doesn’t take much for leaders to acknowledge the efforts of team members. Many times all it takes is saying thank you. A pattern of not recognizing the good work of others will eventually turn team members against you. People will develop a mindset of doing the minimum amount of work acceptable because “they don’t appreciate me going above and beyond.”

Intimidating or Coercing Others – This behavior is a holdover from the days of Command and Control leadership, but unfortunately, too many leaders still rely on this tactic to get work accomplished. I think there are two main reasons why this is the case. First, some leaders truly don’t know any better. They believe their job as the “boss” is to tell other people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Secondly, it’s the path of least resistance. When leaders are stressed and short on time and patience, getting work done by intimidating or coercing others seems the most expedient thing to do. It may work for you once or twice, but intimidating others will not only crush their spirits, it will create enemies that actively work against you and not with you.

Playing favorites – One of the most influential factors that crush a person’s spirit is being treated unfairly. We are hardwired with a desire for justice, and when we feel we’re aren’t being treated justly, it causes a variety of emotions ranging from defensiveness and anger to cynicism and despair. Leaders can be fair by treating people equitably and ethically. Being equitable means people receive what they deserve based on the circumstances, and being ethical means the leaders behavior is alignment with the values of the organization and it’s policies and procedures.

I believe most leaders have positive intentions. There are very few leaders who wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to crush the spirits of my employees today!” No, that doesn’t usually happen, but what does happen is we get so focused on our own agendas that we forget how we’re treating our team members. Being more mindful of how our leadership impacts others and avoiding these spirit-crushing behaviors will help foster an environment where our people feel safe, appreciated, and free to give their all.

Posted in Bullying, Communication, Conflict, Ethics, Fairness, Leadership, Management, Morale, Relationships, Toxic Leadership, Trust Busters | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Debunking 8 Common Myths About Trust

myth-v-truthWhen conducting training classes to teach people how to become more trustworthy and build trust in their relationships, I often have to address some common myths. There are commonly held beliefs about trust that aren’t quite as true as people believe.

Here are eight common myths about trust and my thoughts about the truth behind these misconceptions.

Myth #1: Trust takes a long time to build — You’ve probably heard this said before or maybe even said it yourself. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not altogether true. Yes, there are instances where trust can take a long time to build, such as relationships that have infrequent interactions or where one or both of the parties are trust-averse and uncooperative with each other, but in many cases trust is established quickly. When you walk in a doctor’s office and see diplomas on the wall from Harvard Medical School and John’s Hopkins, you have an immediate sense of trust based on the doctor’s expertise. The same is true for many professions where the individual’s expertise engenders immediate trust. A person’s reputation for being trustworthy also carries great influence when starting new relationships. Trust can be built very quickly.

Myth #2: Trust is lost in a second — This is the companion to myth #1. In relationships where a strong bond of trust has been formed, a single instance of violating trust rarely destroys the whole relationship. In fact, a high-level of trust in a relationship leads to the parties assuming best intentions about each other, so when a breach of trust occurs, the offending party is often given the benefit of the doubt. Instead of losing trust in a second, trust is more frequently lost when it’s broken repeatedly over a period of time. One party keeps making withdrawals from the trust account of the other party until eventually they start bouncing checks.

Myth #3: Trust is fragile — Because people believe the previous myth about it only taking a second to break someone’s trust, they assume that trust must be fragile. Wrong. Trust, true trust that has stood the test of time, is extremely resilient. Consider the most trustworthy relationships you’ve seen or experienced in life. They are probably ones that have endured their fair share of trust-busters, and yet because of the high level of trust between the parties, they addressed the challenging situations and moved beyond them in ways that continued to sustain and reinforce the trust between them.

Myth #4: Trust is soft — One of the most common myths I encounter, particularly from senior leaders, is that trust is a “soft” interpersonal issue. You know what I mean, the group hug, hold hands, and sing kumbaya kind of soft. Well, trust is anything but soft. Trust has hard, bottom-line impacts to people and organizations. Research has shown that high trust companies consistently outperform low trust ones. High levels of trust enables innovation, creativity, productivity, collaboration, and lower turnover, all of which directly impact an organization’s bottom-line.

Myth #5: Trust “just happens” — People assume trust just happens naturally, like some sort of relationship osmosis. The truth is trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that can be taught, learned, and practiced. If you’re leaving the building of trust to chance, well, chances are you’re not going to be successful. Learn the specific elements of trust and how you can use their associated behaviors to become more trustworthy and develop high-trust relationships.

Myth #6: Distrust is the opposite of trust — On the surface this seems to make sense, right? If we have a spectrum with trust on one side, then distrust must be on the other. Actually, the opposite of trust is control. Control? Yes, control. See, when you don’t trust someone you try to maintain control. Staying in control means less risk, and risk is required when trusting someone. Without risk there is no need for trust and trust requires that you give up control to one degree or another.

Myth #7: Trust is all about integrity — Integrity is one of the four core elements of trust and most people identify it as being the most important when it comes to building trust. However, integrity is just one of the building blocks of trust. Another is competence. People who have expertise, a proven track record, and are effective at what they do inspire trust. A third element of trust is connectedness, showing care and concern for others by building rapport, communicating effectively, and demonstrating benevolence. Finally, the fourth element of trust is dependability. You build trust when you are reliable, accountable, and responsive in your actions.

Myth #8: Trust is all or nothing; you either have it or you don’t — Trust is not a one size fits all proposition. There can be different levels of trust in relationships based on the nature of the relationship and context of the situation. For example, you may have a high level of trust in your plumber to fix plumbing issues in your house, but you wouldn’t trust him to repair your automobile because it’s not his area of expertise. Or, you may have someone in whom you confide your deepest feelings to because they have earned your trust as a close confidant, but their history of being habitually late causes you to not trust them to arrive on time for an appointment.

Many times we accept myths as truths because on the surface they seem pretty reasonable. That’s the case with these myths about trust. But when you dig a little deeper, you begin to see that trust is not quite as simple as we make it out to be. It’s actually quite complex and multi-dimensional.

I’m interested in your experience. What are other myths about trust you’ve encountered? Please take the time to share by leaving a comment.

Posted in Control, Distrust, Integrity, Repairing Trust, Trust, Trust Boosters, Trust Busters | Tagged , | 9 Comments

The 4 Unmet Needs That Lead to Disengaged Employees

4 Basic Human Needs for Engagement

Thanks to Tanmay Vora at QAspire.com for the sketchnote

Everyday the spirits of millions of people die at the front door of their workplace. There is an epidemic of workers who are uninterested and disengaged from the work they do, and the cost to the U.S. economy has been pegged at over $300 billion annually. According to a recent survey from Deloitte, only 20% of people say they are truly passionate about their work, and Gallup surveys show the vast majority of workers are disengaged, with an estimated 23 million “actively disengaged.”

This issue presents a tremendous challenge for organizational leaders. Even worse than dealing with the effects of people who leave your organization (studies show replacing employees can be 1.5 to 3 times their annual salary), you have to manage these disengaged workers who have decided to “quit and stay.” You’re still paying them to under-perform and ultimately undermine the effectiveness of your organization!

In conducting over 19,000 exit interviews of employees who voluntarily left their jobs, Leigh Branham, author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, identified four basic needs that weren’t being met that started people on the path to disengagement and ultimately quitting a job.

The Need for Trust — The number one priority for any leader is to build trust with his/her team members. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and in the workplace it’s a non-negotiable if leaders desire to tap into the full effort and passion of their employees. Employees won’t give you their best if they don’t believe you have their best interests in mind. They will shy away from taking risks or making themselves vulnerable if they don’t feel safe and trusted. They expect company leadership to deliver on their promises, to be honest and open in communication, to invest in them, and to treat them fairly. The ABCD Trust Model is a helpful tool for leaders to understand what it means to be trustworthy and build trust with others.

The Need to Have Hope — I’ve had the privilege of meeting football legend Rosey Grier, a member of the “Fearsome Foursome” when he played with the Los Angeles Rams, and now a Christian minister and inspirational speaker. He said something I’ve never forgotten. When speaking about his work with inner city youth in Los Angeles, Rosey said “Leaders aren’t dealers of dope, they are dealers of hope!” So true…leaders are dealers of hope. We need to instill a sense of hope in the people we lead. Our people need to believe they will be able to grow, develop their skills, and have the opportunity for advancement or career progress. It’s our job as leaders to foster that hope and support our employees in their growth.

The Need to Feel a Sense of Worth — Despite its struggles and challenges, work is an intrinsically rewarding experience for people. We derive a tremendous amount of self-worth from our work, whether it’s something we’re employed to do or whether we volunteer our time and effort. Employees have a need to feel confident that if they work hard, do their best, and demonstrate commitment and make meaningful contributions, they will be recognized and rewarded appropriately.

The Need to Feel Competent — Employees need to be matched in jobs where their talents align with the challenges of the work. If the work is too simple, then it’s easy for people to lose interest and become disengaged. If the employee is in over his/her head and the work is too challenging, it can lead to discouragement and frustration. Leaders are on a constant quest to find ways to place employees in that sweet spot where they are challenged at just the right level. But it’s not all on the shoulders of leaders to do this work. Employees need to take responsibility for their own development and learn how to manage their motivational outlooks.

Employee engagement is a broad and complex topic, so much so that most leaders feel overwhelmed at how to make a meaningful impact. Focusing on ways to meet these four critical needs will lay the foundation for an environment where your employees develop and thrive in their roles.

Posted in Engagement, Leadership, Motivation, Trust | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

4 Ways to Develop & Retain Employees When You Can’t Give Promotions

Climbing the corporate ladder has long been the traditional view of success in an organization. The main strategy for developing and retaining key talent has been to keep them engaged through a series of promotions and title changes that satisfy an individual’s need for growth and recognition.

Corporate Ladder vs Lattice

Credit: The Corporate Lattice, Deloitte University Press

Well, in most organizations these days, the corporate ladder has been replaced by the corporate lattice. The flat design of most organizations has eliminated the ladder—multiple layers of structure—and instead created an environment where growth has to be achieved in a zig-zag, network pattern of project-based assignments or leadership experiences. So when leaders don’t have the ability to hand out promotions, how do they grow, engage, and retain their key talent? Here are four approaches:

1. Ask your team members what they’re interested in doing — Asking someone what they want…novel concept, huh? Many leaders choose not to have this conversation because they are afraid they won’t be able to provide what is requested. Instead, frame the conversation with your employees as a time to explore opportunities with no strings attached. I tell team members that nothing is off the table when we have these conversations and I balance it with also saying I’m not making any promises. We’re simply exploring options, yet I make it clear that I’m in the employee’s corner and will do everything in my power to help them achieve their goals if there is a way we can find alignment between their interests and the needs of the organization.

2.Don’t be constrained by job descriptions — My HR colleagues may cringe a bit with my philosophy, but I believe leaders need to think beyond job descriptions when it comes to employee growth. Too often we get locked into job descriptions as the defining scope of a person’s responsibilities, including who reports to who in the chain of command. In reality, we need to consider the job description as the broad outline of how and where the person will contribute to the organization. Growing in the corporate lattice requires people to take on BHAG’s (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) that allow them to develop new skill-sets and competencies. Leaders should frame growth as an individual’s chance for resume enhancement that will benefit them in the future, whether at your organization or somewhere else.

3. Give away parts of your job — Most leaders have far too much on their plates to accomplish on their own, so why not delegate some of your key responsibility areas to competent and motivated team members? It’s hard for some leaders to go this route because it means giving up control and trusting others. It can also be threatening to your ego, as if it’s an admission you aren’t capable of doing it all on your own. Actually, smart leaders use this strategy because it’s a win-win for everyone. Your employees get to take on challenging goals and they earn the satisfaction of contributing in important ways, and you deliver on the key objectives for your team and develop a strong bench of capable and committed team members.

4. Adopt a mindset of being a developer and exporter of talent — Leaders should consider it a fiduciary responsibility to help their people grow, even at the risk of having them leave for greener pastures at some point in the future. My experience has shown when employees clearly know you are on their side and will do whatever you can to support their growth, they devote even more loyalty to you and will stay with you as long as possible. Who would want to leave an environment where they know their boss bends over backwards to provide opportunities for growth and development? Not many.

The corporate ladder doesn’t exist in many organizations these days and leaders don’t have the ability to hand out promotions like they were candy. We’ve got to have ongoing career conversations with team members, look for areas of growth beyond the boundaries of job descriptions, delegate key responsibilities to others, and be willing to invest in developing people, even at the risk of them ultimately leaving the organization. Using these strategies to navigate the corporate lattice, combined with financial models that facilitate income growth, will help you develop an engaged and passionate workforce that fuels personal and organizational success.

Posted in Career Growth, Engagement, Leadership, Performance Management, Talent Management | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment