Last week, I spoke to my team about the importance of communicating with one another. We had a couple of delays that could have been avoided entirely had we managed expectations better. It was a productive session where everyone got to speak up. After everyone was done sharing, I did what many people struggle to do.
I recognized my role in the problem and offered to do better. It was quite a humbling experience. I’ve apologized many times for many things but it’s always still a challenge. Why? Because sorry goes beyond just words.
It’s easy to say sorry. We say it all the time. What is difficult is actually meaning it. We apologize when we’re at fault and think it is enough. It’s not. Words can’t undo our wrongs, mend broken relationships, or rebuild trust.
If you are genuinely sorry, you must realize that it is more than simply saying it. There are three parts to a proper apology: recognizing fault, taking responsibility, and offering a solution.
First, we must recognize our fault in the situation. In certain cases, it may not entirely be our fault but there is fault nonetheless. Any fault, big or small, requires an apology in order to remedy.
Second, we must take responsibility of our actions or lack thereof. People say sorry but quickly rid themselves of the burden of ownership. I had no control over it. It was the traffic. I overlooked this detail. When you do this, you are saying sorry for the sake of saying it. Taking responsibility is important because you show that you understand where you went wrong or what you could have done differently.
Lastly, we must offer a solution. This is arguably the most difficult part of an apology. We can’t undo the pain or inconvenience we caused. We can only make up for it and promise to be better. Our apologies can’t change the past but it can ensure that similar instances will be avoided in the future. This willingness to make up for mistakes is what gives “I’m sorry” its meaning and depth.
The power of apology lies in its ability to piece together again the things that are broken by our faults. Relationships grow stronger when you apologize to your partner. Companies improve when management takes ownership of poor business decisions. Nations progress when its leaders remedy situations instead of blaming previous administrations. A sincere apology can bring about some good from the bad we inflict on others.
Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same. Apologizing (and actually meaning it) is difficult but necessary for change and progress. It cannot erase the damage or the hurt. It can however turn the negative into the building blocks of a strong relationship with those whom we have wronged.