Leading with Trust

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.

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.

The 1 Key to a Successful Apology

Puppy Dog EyesI appreciate a good apology.

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.

The Situation
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.

The Apology
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.

Sincerely,

Ann

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.

4 Reasons For the Lack of Trust in Your Relationships #TrustGiving2014

Trust BlocksCan you ever have enough trust in your relationships?

When I speak to groups or conduct training sessions I often conduct the following poll (go ahead and select your answer): 

If you answered honestly and you truly have no trust issues in any of your relationships, then congratulations! Please email me and I’ll arrange for you to take my job! The reality is trust can always be improved in our relationships and that’s the focus of #TrustGiving2014, a week-long (Nov. 17-24) celebration of the importance of trust in all relationships.

In our personal relationships, many times we hold ourselves back from enjoying higher levels of trust because we’re reluctant to give it in the first place. There is a reciprocal nature to trust – the more you give it, the more you usually get it. If you aren’t giving trust, chances are you aren’t getting it. Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy in this regard.

Here are four common reasons why you may have a lack of trust in your relationships:

1. You have a low propensity to trust – Our propensity to trust is based on many factors, chief among them being our personality, early childhood role models and experiences, beliefs and values, culture, self-awareness and emotional maturity. The combination of these factors and experiences shapes how quickly, and how much trust we extend to others. Your experiences may have resulted in you viewing trust as something to be earned, not given, so therefore you withhold trust from others until you’re absolutely sure they deserve it. Even then, you may only extend trust grudgingly or in small amounts. Having a low propensity to trust can hold you back from experiencing true joy and fulfillment in relationships.

2. You don’t like to give up control – Giving up control means we open ourselves to risk, and when we’re exposed to risk, the more vulnerable we are to get hurt. So in response, we withhold trust and try to control the people and situations around us to protect our safety. If we define control as that which we have direct and complete power over, we quickly realize we don’t actually posses that much control. We may be able to influence people or situations, but we can’t control them. The only control we truly have is over ourselves – our actions, attitudes, values, emotions, and opinions. People often assume mistrust (or distrust) is the opposite of trust; that’s not true. Control is the opposite of trust, and in order to get trust you have to be willing to give it.

3. You have unrealistic expectations – Unrealistic, unspoken, and unclear expectations are a primary cause for low or broken trust in relationships, and the higher the expectations the more likely it is they won’t be met. Trust usually isn’t something people openly talk about or address in relationships until it’s been broken, and by then it’s often too late to salvage the relationship or the breach of trust seems too big to overcome. Clarifying expectations is preventative medicine when it comes to trust. It’s much better to have the awkward or uncomfortable discussion up front about roles, responsibilities, and expectations, than it is to deal with the fallout when either party falls short.

4. Past hurts hold you back – Hurt people, hurt people…those who have been hurt by broken relationships in the past often hurt other people in a dysfunctional form of self-protection. Whether it’s unnecessarily withholding trust (see #1), having unrealistic expectations of others (see #3), being trapped in a victim mentality, lashing out at others, or operating out of low self-esteem, our past experiences with broken trust can easily derail us from developing healthy, high-trust relationships. It’s critical to not let our past hurts dictate our present relationships. As Sue Augustine, author of When Your Past Is Hurting Your Present says, “You may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can control what happens within you.”

Trust is as vital to healthy relationships as oxygen is to a scuba diver; survival is impossible without it. Whether it’s a naturally low propensity to trust, being unwilling to give up control, having unrealistic expectations, or letting our past hurts hold us back from trusting others, we have to move beyond these reasons if we want to have trust-filled relationships in the future.

After Your Trust Has Been Broken – 5 Ways to Avoid a Victim Mentality

I Am Not A VictimHaving someone break your trust is a painful and inevitable fact of life. There will be a number of situations during your lifetime where people will let you down, whether it’s something as innocent and unintentional as forgetting a lunch date, or as major and hurtful as a spouse seeking a divorce. You will have your trust broken. It’s not a question of if, but when.

What’s important is your response after trust has been broken. You have two choices: victimization or resiliency. Victimization is characterized by an attitude of powerlessness, blaming others for the negative situations in your life, believing that everyone else has it better than you, and a constant seeking of sympathy for your lot in life. Either you’ve experienced it yourself or you’ve seen it others. It’s characterized by statements like: Why me? People can’t be trusted. I can’t change my circumstances. Why is everyone against me? It’s not my fault.

The other response to having your trust broken is resiliency. Resilient people choose to embrace the power they have to make the best of their circumstances, to learn from their experiences, grow in maturity, and move toward healthier and more satisfying places in life. Statements that reflect the attitudes and beliefs of resilient people include: This will make me stronger. This hurts but I’ll deal with it and move on. I’ve got so many good things to look forward to in life. I’m not going to let this get me down.

Here are five concrete ways you can move from having a victim mentality toward an attitude of resiliency:

1. Own your choices – You can’t control everything that happens in your life, but you can control how you respond. You can choose to wallow in self-pity, depression, anger, or resentment, or you can choose to grant forgiveness, experience healing, and seek growth moving forward.

2. Quit obsessing on “why?” – Rather than asking “Why me?” when someone violates your trust, ask yourself “What can I learn?” Many times it will be impossible to know exactly why something happened the way it did, but you can always choose to view challenging circumstances in life as learning opportunities. Did you trust this person too quickly? Did you miss previous warning signs about this person’s trustworthiness? What will you do differently in the future?

3. Forgive and seek forgiveness – Years ago I heard a saying about forgiveness that has stuck with me:

Forgiveness is letting go of all hopes for a better past.

We often refuse to grant forgiveness because we feel like it’s letting people off the hook for their transgressions. In reality, choosing to not grant forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It does nothing but hurt ourselves and hold us back from healing and moving forward. If you are the one who has broken trust or played a part in the situation, do what you can to seek forgiveness and bring healing to the relationship. It’s the right thing to do.

4. Count your blessings – People with a victim mentality often gravitate toward absolute thinking. Words like never and always frequent their conversations: I’ll never find someone I can trust. People always let me down. Life is rarely so absolute and one way to remind ourselves of that truth is to count our blessings. In the big scheme of life, most of us have many more positive things in our lives than negative. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for and you’ll realize how fortunate you really are.

5. Focus forward – Victims tend to live in the past, constantly focused on the negative things that have happened to them until this becomes their daily reality. Resilient people keep focused on moving forward. They don’t let circumstances hold them back, and they embrace whatever power they have to learn, grow, and take hold of all the good that life has to offer.

Having someone break your trust, particularly if it’s a serious betrayal, can be one of the most painful experiences in life. The easy path is to let it take you down the road of victimization where everyone and everything else becomes responsible for all the pain you encounter. The harder path is resiliency, choosing to acknowledge the pain, process it, deal with it, learn from it, and move on toward healing and growth.

Feel free to share your comments about how you’ve chosen resiliency over victimization. I’d love to learn from your wisdom.

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