For some reason, probably because trust is one of my most treasured values and I study it, write about it, and help others to build it, I pay particular attention to how people apologize.
Unfortunately, too many people don’t know how to deliver an effective apology (To learn more, see 8 Essentials of an Effective Apology.) Frequent mistakes include making excuses or placing blame, using conditional language that weakens the impact of the apology, or not being sincere or empathetic in your communication.
However, every once in a while I come across a great apology and I experienced such an occasion recently with some colleagues at work. The cool thing is this apology contained the one essential component that makes an apology successful. I’ll set the stage and you tell me if you can identify this critical key.
Ann is one of our most fantastic consulting partners. She brings high energy to her training and speaking sessions and our clients love her. Recently Ann unknowingly double-booked herself for two different clients on the same day—a simple calendaring mistake on her part. Ann admirably tried to fix the problem on her own but her well-intentioned efforts ended up creating more confusion in the process. Diane, the project manager coordinating these client events, and Judy, the staffing specialist who maintains the master booking calendar, spent most of the day rearranging the logistics to meet both client’s needs. In the end everything worked out and the clients were well served and happy.
Ann, recognizing the impact of her actions, sent the following apology email to Diane and Judy.
Dear Diane and Judy,
I don’t even know where to start with my apology for the problematic series of events my actions caused. I am so sorry for…
- My oversight on my calendar
- Not communicating earlier about this change
- The extra time and effort required of you to “put things back together again” including scheduling, communication, and going back and forth with the clients, and
- Everything else in this debacle.
(All lessons learned.)
I believe the sincerity of an apology is in not repeating the action you’re apologizing for. This won’t happen again.
The One Essential Component of a Successful Apology
Did you spot the one critical key? If not, here it is:
“I believe the sincerity of an apology is in not repeating the action you’re apologizing for. This won’t happen again.”
Not repeating the behavior you’re apologizing for is the one critical component of a successful apology. If you want to get technical, you could say it’s not even really part of the apology—it’s your behavior after you apologize that’s most important. You can deliver the most eloquent, warm, sincere, textbook apology, but if you repeat the behavior then it’s all for naught. Conversely, you can botch the delivery of your apology but still regain trust over time if you don’t repeat the offending behavior. The bottom line is your behavior will determine the validity and sincerity of your apology.
Thank you, Ann, for modeling an excellent apology and giving me permission to share it with the Leading With Trust readers!
Feel free to leave a comment about your own experience delivering and/or receiving apologies.