No Apology, No Strength

Some people believe that if they have conviction, they don’t need to apologize. Needing to apologize makes it sound like it’s required – like a child that has to say “I’m sorry,” or is punished with penalties of fewer food choices, shortened playtimes, or limits on other emerging freedoms. In our bones, sometimes we know, feel, and want to apologize because when we analyze our actions, we know that if the same thing were done to us, we would want an apology. If we feel we are being scolded into ‘needing’ to apologize, or facing the consequences, we might say to ourselves, ok – I’ll be punished! It’s the ramification of committing an error.

Doing the right thing regardless of personal consequences is called Integrity.

Donald Trump explains why he doesn’t apologize, “I believe what I said to be true, and so there is no need to apologize.”

However, his truth does not mean it’s the truth. We need to be broad in our thinking, and that goes beyond a simple sense of conviction that our truth is all-knowing and the full truth. To believe that the full truth isn’t someplace else besides our mind is conviction run amuck and not honorable. The presidential race is a lot of things, and perhaps honorable isn’t one of them.

Several years ago, my daughter and I were debating why she and her friend weren’t getting along. She talked about a minor disagreement that led to nasty words. She tried to apologize but that didn’t work. I was surprised and disappointed for her. We talked about the actual apology she made, and she said, “I did Dad! I apologized and she didn’t forgive or understand, but simply got more upset.” I asked, “What exactly did you say?” She said, “I told her ‘I am sorry you don’t understand and don’t get it.” Ah, time for a little apology process review.

Today’s stress requires emotional and mental stability and agility. We need to drive more oxytocin – the “love hormone” into our systems. That makes us want to “tend-and-befriend.” Then, swallowing our pride we can take the first step to ending a conflict – through a clear, simple, quiet, authentic, and genuine “I’m so sorry.” No explanations, rationalizing, and minimizing – simply being real and committing to adjusting our future behavior to be more considerate so we don’t repeat that error. Apologizing is a sign of incredible strength and character.

The 6 science-based elements of an effective apology:

Roy Lewicki, professor emeritus of management and human resources at Ohio State, was curious to pinpoint the key ingredients of an effective apology. In two separate experiments, Lewicki and his co-authors tested 755 people to see how they reacted to a spectrum of apologies containing anywhere from one to all six of these elements.

1. Expression of regret
2. Explanation of what went wrong
3. Acknowledgment of responsibility
4. Declaration of repentance
5. Offer of repair
6. Request for forgiveness

The researchers concluded that while the best apologies contained all six elements, not all of these components are equal. In a statement, Lewicki said, “Our findings showed that the most important component is an acknowledgement of responsibility. Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake. The second most important element was an offer of repair.”

“One concern about apologies is that talk is cheap. But by saying, ‘I’ll fix what is wrong,’ you’re committing to take action to undo the damage.” The next three elements were essentially tied for third in effectiveness: expression of regret, explanation of what went wrong, and declaration of repentance.

That said, in several studies on effective apologies, the request for forgiveness was seen as the least important part of saying “I’m sorry.” In fact, “That’s the one you can leave out if you have to,” Lewicki concluded.

Lewicki emphasizes, in real life, the authenticity and emotion implied by the inflection of your voice in a spoken apology can have powerful impacts on the effectiveness of an apology.

Whenever possible, apologizing in person, via Skype, or on the telephone is always better than sending a text or email.

Apologizing is a skill. Here are the 5 “Its” to apologizing:

  • Admit “It”
  • Own “It”… no ‘buts’
  • Mean “It”
  • Fix  “It”
  • Learn from “It”


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