Very few leaders engage in this practice because they fear it will make them look weak or incompetent. However, the evidence tells a very different story. Apologies tend to increase the level of respect and trust in the person, rather than diminish them.
So, how can we apologize effective? There is a science of apology. Here’s what it says:
- Say “I’m Sorry” – Stating those three magic words is an important part of a successful apology. Be specific about the words or actions for which you are apologizing. Showing you understand what you did wrong helps the healing process and heightens trust that it will not happen again.
- Offer a Form of Compensation – It is important that the form of compensation is heartfelt and aligned with the transgression. Otherwise, the gesture can come across as not truly being an apology and instead as though you are trying to “buy them off” with a gift. A direct way to do this is by asking, “What can I do to make up for this?” Asking people what you can do to make amends is critical and allows the individual to provide direction. Otherwise, a well-intentioned apologetic gesture may create even more conflict and frustration.
- Take Responsibility – Do not attempt to justify your behaviors in any way (e.g. “I was under stress at the time” or “I know I yelled at you in front of everyone, but you just told me the project was behind”). This suggests that you are not accepting responsibility and are blaming the circumstances and/or the other person for provoking you.
- Avoid “Non-Apologies” – Do not offer a “non-apology” where you apologize for offending the other person rather than apologize for the behavior. Saying “I’m sorry if you took it that way” can come across as offensive and condescending because it can be interpreted as, “If you were smarter, you would have known what I really meant.”