We usually take our apology out of the oven way too soon. We rush off an “I’m sorry” or “Oops!”, but it’s mostly to try and get rid of that icky feeling of having screwed up. That’s surely better than saying nothing at all (the unfortunate norm in most organizations) but still misses out on all the good stuff.
For starters, “I’m sorry” on its own is almost always a woefully incomplete way to apologize. If we’ve done something that’s worthy of an apology, we need more than those two words. We need to be able to say something about why we’re sorry, and to do that we have to shift our awareness from what we did to what impact we had.
Here are three questions to ask the next time you want to say you’re sorry that will turn a polite apology into a profound one:
What specific action did you take or not take that created more work, frustration or anxiety for this person?
What proactive action can you take now that shifts that work, frustration or anxiety back to you?
What feeling or inner voice did you ignore that you can pay better attention to next time?
How do you know when your apology is fully-baked? Here’s an example of what it might sound like:
“Hey Robin, I just realized that I never responded to the question you asked in your email yesterday about that step in our new client onboarding process. I was in my own world thinking about the part I was focused on. Sorry about that — I realize it left you wondering and probably slowed you down. I wrote a full response to your question below so you can see the different options I think we have at this point.”
You don’t have to promise it will never happen again. You don’t have to flog yourself in shame. All you have to do is own it — take back what you can and learn from the rest.
It’s that intangible feeling of ownership — of personal accountability that comes from an honest look in the mirror — that makes a real apology unmistakably different than the superficial kind.
It’s worth the wait, for everyone involved.