Why is – I’m sorry – so hard to say?

I heard snatches of this conversation as I was jogging through the park to clear my head. I didn’t hear the context, or who these two people were talking about, but it got me thinking about the relationship strengthening power of a sincere apology.

Words have power.

And two of the most powerful are, “I’m sorry.”

When used appropriately – with the right tone – they have tremendous power to repair misunderstandings; to mend damage caused by unintended consequences; or to just acknowledge that challenging impacts are noticed and that you care.

I was taught that on the basketball court. When we fouled a little too hard, or landed on someone’s foot getting a rebound, we were taught to say, “My bad…” meaning “my mistake.” It kept the play competitive, but respectful.

I was talking with a colleague about this and he told me he was taught to “never say” you’re sorry because it’s a sign of weakness.

Why is – “I’m sorry.” – so hard to say?

Do we think it is a sign of weakness? Do we think we give up power? Do we think it undercuts our role as leader?

Even when people know an apology is warranted they often hedge and give what can be called the rotten apology so common these days.

You’ve probably heard it. It goes something like this: “If anyone was offended, that was not what I intended…”

The rotten apology implies that “this wasn’t my fault” but the fault of those who didn’t understand “my (clear) intent.” This kind of half-hearted mea culpa usually makes the situation worse.

Confident leaders know that their willingness to admit to a mistake is not a weakness, but a strength.

For example, saying “I’m sorry that happened,” to acknowledge unintended consequences shows that the leader is aware, engaged and connected to the real consequences of his decisions.

In today’s competitive business climate, relationships are important.

A well placed, “I’m sorry,” can strengthen critical relationships needed for a team to remain committed, connected, and loyal to their leader’s vision.

 

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