The power of apologies
Apology – A Sign of Weakness?
In our personal relationships, apologies seem to be easier than in working relationships. We may fear that apologizing to a colleague in a competitive environment might be perceived as a sign of weakness, undermine our authority or even negatively affect office dynamics.
However, an honest and sincere apology has the potential to restore dignity and diminish fear of retaliation or even desire for vengeance on the receiving end. On the giving end it can be a powerful tool to reconcile a working relationship and to initiate the restoration of trust. Accordingly, an apology can show strength of character, demonstrate emotional competence and reaffirm that both parties share values in their relationship they want to commit to.
Depending on the situation, there are certain factors that can contribute to the success of an apology:
When you OFFER an apology
Consider to include following elements:
1. Specify and explain the perceived offence
Example: “Yesterday during the meeting, I said…”
2. Acknowledge that the other person’s feelings are legitimate
Example: “I understand that this must have felt hurtful.”
3. Take responsibility
Example: “I should have addressed it differently”, “When addressing it, I should have taken into consideration…”
4. Include a judgment about the offence
Example: “How I addressed it was wrong.”
5. Voice your regret
Example: “I am sorry I used those words.”
6. Indicate your future intention
Example: “From now on, I will try to speak in a more friendly tone / use different words”, “I hope that we can have a relationship of mutual respect.”
When you RECEIVE an apology
The response to an apology is critical for the future relationship with the apologizing party. First consider whether or not you are genuinely ready to accept the apology.
- If you are ready to accept the apology
Demonstrate acceptance and extend forgiveness by shaking hands or another method you feel comfortable with.
- If you are not ready to accept the apology
Acknowledge the value of the apology and ask for more time to heal. Indicate when you are ready to speak about the issue again.
The healing effect of an apology through restoration of trust, caring and respect can best be achieved when one has a chance to clearly define the harmful behaviour, apologize and indicate how future misunderstandings can be avoided.