Saying sorry can be one of the hardest things we do. Remember when the teacher forced you to say sorry to another kid, then made you both shake hands? And you would grit your teeth and say sorry, and shake hands, both of you gripping the other’s hand hard. You would look in each other’s eyes, both knowing you weren’t sorry, that shaking hands is meaningless, resentment of the teacher being at least common ground between you.

Do we grow up? Does making an apology get easier?

It’s often hard to admit to ourselves that we are in the wrong, let alone admit we are in the wrong to the other person. Especially when we still secretly think we’re in the right. What about:

  1. The Easyish Ones

When we cock something up, a genuine yet relatively minor mistake, know we have to apologise and are glad to. You promise a client a reduction on a package she booked, draw up the invoice and forget to apply the reduction, immediately receiving a questioning email.

Making an easy, genuine apology and relatively easy to rectify.

You send an old friend a birthday card then realise you forgot the stamp. Embarassing, but easy to pick up the phone and apologise. And apologise again if the card makes it and she gets billed for her own birthday card. And probably again every time she jokingly reminds you of it for years to come.

  1. The Huge Mistakes That Make You Want The Ground to Swallow You Up FOREVER

Some mistakes are harder to own and apologise for. Have you ever had that sinking feeling when you realise you have done a proper blooper? Maybe the mistake happened because you weren’t paying attention, or maybe you genuinely thought you were doing it right. Maybe you had done a bit of guesswork and hoped for the best. Maybe your email system had auto filled an address for you and you had sent something to the wrong person. Or maybe you replied to all with something you didn’t want everyone to read. Knocked a zero off or added a zero. Misplaced a very important and irreplaceable bankers’ draft. Shredded a signed contract that had gone on to your shredding pile instead of your very important never to be lost or damaged pile of importantness.

Once the sinking feeling has taken a grip, and slight panic has set in, our instinct is to deflect blame. Onto anything or anyone else. Add a dose of fear – will this cost you your job or relationship?

And I guess it might. That is the risk we take when we make a mistake. It may cost us our job, or a friendship, or a client. But fight the instinct to deflect the blame. I believe that the best thing to do when you have made a pit-of-the-stomach-clammy-hand-inducing mistake is to go straight to whoever is affected – your boss, your friend, your spouse, your client – and own it: I have made a (huge) balls up and I am so sorry. Then explain, clearly and without justification or deflection, what the mistake is.

The most important thing is solving the problem you have caused. Looking at why or how you made the mistake comes later.  Owning up to and genuinely apologising comes first, cutting out all the BS and blaming and excuses.

It’s really hard. I know. Some (not all, and not telling!) of the examples I have used are things I have done myself. I KNOW how blooming awful it is. The Fear. Agh, even writing about it brings it back!

Recap:  when you have made a really wibbly and scarily stomach wrenching mistake, the steps I suggest are:

  • Own up
  • Apologise
  • Damage control
  • THEN look back at why and how
  • FINALLY, you learn from it

It can be a harsh lesson with serious consequences. You may realise that it wasn’t such an awful error after all and the Fear was not worth it.

But you owned it, dealt with it, resisted the temptation to hide it or blame someone or something else. That is awesome, and anyone will respect you for it.

  1. Making An Apology When You Are Convinced You Are In The Right

These are the worst. You’re in a conflict. You KNOW you are right. They KNOW they are right. And one of you has to back down or at least give some leeway otherwise it will go on forever. But why should it be you?

Maybe you have hurt someone’s feelings and genuinely don’t understand why. Why should you apologise?

Or when you have to apologise on behalf of someone else, taking the bullet for them?

Or you choose to apologise to let the other party save face.

Maybe you find yourself having to defuse a bully – in the workplace, in your personal life. Perhaps the bitterest apology pill of all to swallow because it somehow weakens you, and you both know it. (Big hugs full of love for you if you have found yourself in this situation – there can and will be an end to it x)

An apology, even when you feel it shouldn’t be you that does it, can be a way of re-opening communication. It could be a question of perspective – walking a mile in another person’s shoes works well here.

It can be a way out. You apologise to end a situation, hope it is accepted with grace, and walk away your head held high.

In my next post I will be talking about the importance of accepting an apology with grace.

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