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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Power of Apologies, Part I (Work)

This is Part I of a 3-part series. Click here to read Part II and Part III.

I've been thinking some about apologies and apologizing lately and how they can affect ourselves and those around us. My wife and I were discussing this and I asked if she thought apologies should be discussed as a whole or broken into different sections like work, customers, family, etc. She suggested that I break them up because we might have different roles with each of the groups I mentioned.

So, over the next several posts, I'm going to write a little about The Power of Apologies: Part I (Work), Part II (Customers), Part III (Family/Friends). Today I'll spend a little time with apologies in the work place.

I'm a big John Wayne movie fan when it comes to his cavalry movies of the 1940s. In one particular movie, "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon", he's Captain Nathan Brittles and he's as hard as his name. He gives about the best chewing out in one scene that I've ever experienced in real life or not. At the end of a particular chewing out, one of his officers says, "I'm sorry, sir". Captain Brittles' reply is "Never apologize! It's a sign of weakness."

I wonder if there's anything to what Captain Brittles said. Don't get me wrong. I think it's stupid to never apologize. Come on, sometimes all it takes to let tension between two people ease is for the "offending" party to apologize. In personal situations, it's never a bad thing to apologize when you're wrong.

Still, what about when people apologize because that's just what the other party wants to hear? What if the plan failed, but you didn't? Do you apologize then? If things just go wrong with an action or plan, I've watched people admit the results might have been disappointing or bad, but they never said "I'm sorry". Why? My guess it that, while it might be easier to say "I'm sorry", there are plenty of people out in the world ready to place blame and to want punishment meted out. They are ready to go for the jugular vein. Maybe that's why Captain Brittles indicated that apologizing is a sign of weakness.

OK, I got off track a little. If you're a boss or supervisor and you mess up, I think it's a sign of strength and not weakness, to apologize when you mess up. There are two big reasons that come to mind:

  1. It shows you are human and you can mess up just like your people. You're walking the walk regarding standards you, hopefully, expect of your team members.
  2. Once you apologize, perhaps it takes some of the pressure off, so to speak, so you can focus on making improvements instead of being defensive.
It would be kind of weak if you just start whining and apologizing and that's all you ever do. The key is to learn from what you did so you can do better the next time and, not to be judgmental when someone else messes up.

What other positives do you see to apologizing to your people when you make a mistake? Is there anything bad about it?

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