It’s not if we make mistakes; rather, how we handle them. All of us make mistakes, yet many of us fail to own up. Frequently, this failure to accept responsibility ends up with another’s hurt feelings.
There are doubtless many reasons why, and it can be fun to speculate as to the motivations in any given individual. Yet, the reasons for failing to own up are far less consequential than the corresponding conduct.
The power of a simple apology can’t be beat: “I’m sorry.”
Tips for Exercising the Power of Apology:
- The Apology is About the Other Person – Not the Person Making it: Acknowledging the mistake is less about the person making it and more about the recipient. Keeping this in mind informs the other tips.
- Keep it Plain and Simple: The two words “I’m sorry,” say it all. No need to add more words, and if words are added they should be about the other person.
- An Explanation Sounds Like an Excuse: The “I’m sorry I’m late; however . . .” is a little like having a “but,” in mid-sentence, which has the effect of negating the apology. The “I’m sorry I’m late,” should do.
- When Appropriate, an Offer to Make it Up Goes a Long Way: “I’m sorry I missed your graduation party; let’s celebrate soon, just the two of us.”
- Cute Comments Miss the Mark: “I bet you were expecting the person bringing the drinks would be on time,” might seem cute to the individual making it; however, it’s frequently not appreciated and certainly, no substitute for, “Sorry I’m late.”
- The Personal Touch Says a Lot: Although we have all become accustomed to emails, text, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and the like, a personal apology goes a long way. Pick up the phone with an, “I’m sorry I missed your party.”
Hannah, John and Clarice are good friends, frequently getting together to plan vacations, celebrate birthdays and other special occasions, or just to chat about the latest news. It’s become a joke between John and Clarice, that Hannah always seems to be late. The two started telling her that the get-togethers were 15 minutes ahead of the planned time to get her there on time; sometimes it worked and other times not.
Recently, the three got together to plan an outing to a local sports arena, and John hosted a potluck. Hannah volunteered to bring appetizers. When she strolled in 20 minutes late – interrupting John and Clarice, who were in deep conversation – Hannah quipped, “Wouldn’t you know it’s the person with the appetizers who is late.” She then went on to explain, “I didn’t have enough gas to make it here and home again, and had to stop at the gas station.” No apology given. Dead silence from John and Clarice.
Within a few weeks, it was John’s 50th birthday – a big one. Clarice, family and friends remembered John’s birthday with cards, presents, well wishes, text messages, emails, invitations for dinner and drinks, and Facebook posts. Hannah didn’t send an acknowledgement. Several days later, she sent a group text to John and Clarice, “John, I have this sinking feeling that your birthday came and went without my birthday greetings.” No apology. John was upset. Clarice jumped in and stated, “Hey, we’re celebrating all year-long.”
What if… Hannah had followed the Tips, how might the story have turned out differently?
- The Apology is About the Other Person – Not the Person Making it: In the first instance, Hannah might volunteer to bring dessert, or state to John and Clarice, “I have a hard time getting anywhere on time. I am going to volunteer to bring the appetizers and do my best to be on time – early even.” When it turned out she was late: “I’m sorry I’m late, I blew it . . . again.”
- Keep it Plain and Simple: In both instances, an “I’m sorry,” would have sufficed, or a few pertinent words “Sorry I’m late,” “So sorry I missed your birthday; I’ll make it up to you.”
- An Explanation Sounds Like an Excuse: Hannah could have dropped the bit about running low on gas and making a stop to fill up. We have all run into situations that cause delays, and no one else cares to hear about it. Often the recipient is thinking, “Why didn’t you plan better,” or even something less charitable than that.
- When Appropriate, an Offer to Make it Up Goes a Long Way: In the first instance, what if Hannah had said, “Okay, I blew it again – sorry I was late. Tell you what, next time dinner is on me.” In the second case, what if Hannah had said, “John, I am so sorry to have missed the big 5 – 0. Tell you what, choose your favorite restaurant, and date, and I’ll treat you to an amazing celebration.”
- Cute Comments Miss the Mark: Hannah’s comments were received, in today’s parlance, as “snarky.” The “wouldn’t you know it’s the person with the appetizers who is late,” might have made Hannah feel witty, yet John and Clarice were stone silent. With her second text about missing John’s birthday, he was hurt. . . and wondered why Clarice was included in the text. It wasn’t her big day.
- The Personal Touch Says a Lot: What if Hannah had picked up the phone and called John? “I am so sorry, your birthday came and went, and I didn’t acknowledge it. Our friendship is important to me, and I apologize. I blew it.”
Tips to Remember:
- The Apology is About the Other Person – Not the Person Making it.
- Keep it Plain and Simple.
- An Explanation Sounds Like an Excuse.
- When Appropriate, an Offer to Make it Up Goes a Long Way.
- Cute Comments Miss the Mark.
- The Personal Touch Says a Lot.