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The Two Hardest Words to Say: I’m Sorry

By , August 21, 2019

Whether or not you have the courage to say I’m sorry can drastically change the course of your relationships—and sometimes even the course of your business.

Do you believe admitting you’re wrong is a sign of weakness or a sign of strength?

Do you think apologizing hurts your credibility or enhances it?

How hard is it for you to apologize to someone you may have hurt?

Just recently I had a conversation with a valuable, highly-paid employee of a company who was on the verge of quitting. After speaking to him more, he confided to me why: he had been falsely accused by the owner of doing something he did not do. For weeks, they had been going back and forth attempting to sort out the conflict. “If only,” this person told me, “he would say ‘I’m sorry,’ I would get over it and move on.” Since the owner refused to apologize for his error, nothing else he said mattered to this employee.

This got me thinking about the power of those two simple words—why people don’t say them, and what could be at stake when they don’t. In fact, recent research has revealed some of the most common reasons we don’t apologize: We tend to justify or excuse our own actions: either because we believe it was “just” an inadvertent slip-up, or that it was the other person’s fault, or that the hurt we caused wasn’t really so bad.

Another big reason is that we see apologizing as a threat to our self-image. Saying “I’m sorry,” brings us face-to-face with our faults and makes us admit to them out loud to someone else, which triggers guilt and shame—uncomfortable feelings, to say the least.

So, if you struggle with apologizing, know that you’re human. Also know that whether or not you have the courage to say I’m sorry can drastically change the course of your relationships—and sometimes even the course of your business.

So what goes into a good apology? Here are 3 Ptex Practical Pointers for making your apology count.

1. Don’t wait until you have the perfect words.

Don’t procrastinate because you’re trying to find just the right words to say. Apologizing promptly and doing so sincerely from the heart are more important than trying to word your apology just so—which can lead to analysis paralysis.

2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and empathize with them.

The person who has been wronged wants to feel truly understood, heard, and empathized with. Acknowledging what you did is a great step, but it’s not enough. Resist the urge to make excuses. Think about what it feels like from their perspective, and show the person that you understand how you made them feel.

3. Show accountability and promise to avoid the transgression in the future.

If there’s anything you can do to rebuild trust with the person, offer to do it. Also, tell them that you will make every effort not to repeat the action or behavior. Then work to honor that commitment in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Mistakes can either damage our relationships, reputation, and credibility, OR they can be opportunities to build long-lasting trust with others. When you dare to admit when you get it wrong, you show humility, and a willingness to be authentic with those who have put their trust in you. And you’ll also have made a strong statement about the kind of person—and leader—you are.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Is apologizing to others something you struggle with? Did you find these tips helpful? Please reply and let me know! I am sincerely interested in hearing and learning from you.

Meny Hoffman

Meny Hoffman

Meny Hoffman is the Chief Executive Officer of Ptex Group, an Inc. 500/5000-ranked marketing and business services firm headquartered in Brooklyn, NY.

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