Saying “sorry” is not easy for most of us. It is easier to decide others are the problem – that they are oversensitive or unreasonable in their expectations. It’s more comfortable to self-justify our behavior or retreat in shame. However, if you are committed to repairing your relationship with an employee or teammate, a meaningful apology is the right place to start.

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the kind of mindset that should guide your efforts to repair a relationship. In this blog, I focus on your first task that follows a mindset check – delivering a meaningful apology. Here’s what you need to know:

Breathe AIR into repair. This is an easy way to remember the three main components of an apology:
A is for acknowledging what you have done. Be specific in naming your misdeeds.
I is for impact. Describe the impact your behavior or decisions had on the other person.
R is for regret. State explicitly your sense of sorrow or sadness about what you did.

Drop the “ifs” and “buts.” When you qualify your apology with “if” or “but,” you weaken its healing potential. Saying “I apologize if I offended you” falls short of acknowledging what really happened. A statement like “I apologize for being insensitive but I was under stress” is half-hearted ownership.

Don’t count on being forgiven right away. An apology is a monologue in which you acknowledge your misdeeds without any expectation of absolution. You do it simply because it is the right thing to do. People often need time to forgive. So, accept the fact that you may have to live with guilt and uncertainty for a while.

Make amends. If you caused a problem for a teammate it is important to explore with him or her how you might help to fix it and prevent the problem from occurring in the future. Sometimes this involves a single action and in other cases, it means ongoing work on your part (e.g., changing a habit or being more aware).

After the apology, the repair process involves resetting the relationship contract through an exchange of requests and commitments. In Part 3 of this blog, you will learn how to reset the re-contract with your teammate.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a really skillful apology? What made it so good?

Photo Credit: Dave Keeshan

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