We’ve all been there. Hard to admit but deep down we have this dark cloud in our head, that haunting feeling that perhaps yes, we were wrong, but ‘Hey…I’m not going to apologize’ or ‘Hey it’s too late now’ or ‘I will wait for him/her apologize’ . When it comes to apologizing denial gets the better of us and its often synonymous with weakness or losing power or God forbid, admitting that we were wrong and losing our self-confidence.
I was in denial for 28 years.
I had practiced the script over 100 times in my head to get ready for the worst possible barbecue as a result of my apology. I expected: ‘You’re an AH ( i.e. the part of the anatomy where food comes out once processed) for waiting all these years to apologize’… to ‘I don’t accept your apology’… to hanging up the phone (we were 8000 kms away). I also knew that I was not going to leave him a voice message. I knew that I had to speak to him live, on the phone.
My heart would pound every time I was attempting to call him. It took about 20 times since he was never home. Then he answered. I said ‘Hello André – It’s Paul…Paul Renaud’ and he recognized me instantly. After a few pleasantries I told him the purpose of my call:
I told him that one day I was talking to my life partner Maria and I explained to her how close we were as friends in high school and university – in fact, he was my best friend and that I finally realized that I had made a terrible mistake and that I was wrong. So I said: ‘André, I am calling you to tell you what I did was wrong and I’m sorry’ !
Then I braced myself for the worst…
He told me what I did not expect: He said ‘Paul I am really glad that you called to tell me this…I missed our friendship after all these years’. I almost collapsed in tears. We ended up talking for an hour. I had to reassure him that: 1) I had not suffered a severe head injury or 2) I had not developed cancer or, 3) I was not diagnosed with a terminal disease. I was simply calling to apologize.
It was that easy.
Later that year, we had gotten together while I was in Canada, he looked at me once again and asked if I was dying of cancer to which I replied that ‘I was fit as a fiddle’.
The incident? In short I wanted André as my best man for my wedding. We had a limited budget for our wedding yet I wanted him to rent a tuxedo. André refused because of the cost and as a result I gave him an ultimatum: ‘Either you rent a tuxedo or you won’t be my best man!’ I know… as I write these words it sounds stupid and it was. As you get ready for a wedding, emotions get involved and well, you want everything to be perfect. As much as I can muster up a whole bunch of excuses and justification for wearing a tuxedo, the responsibility was mine. This was my doing. I had lost my best friend for over 28 years over a tuxedo – how dumb is that?
My example was personal but this can apply in business too.
An apology according to Marshall Goldsmith an expert in Coaching and Leadership, is ‘a cleansing ritual, like confession in church. You say I’m sorry and you feel better’.
He also adds ‘the best thing about apologizing is that it forces everyone to let go of the past. What you are saying is ‘I can’t change the past’. ‘All I can say is I’m sorry for what I did wrong’. ‘I’m sorry it hurt you. There’s no excuse for it and I will try to do better in the future. I would like you to give me any ideas about how I can improve”.
If you are fighting with a peer in the office and it’s clearly becoming a daily battle, why not sit down, think it over and review what may have caused this in the first place? Perhaps an apology can make the difference between fighting and being stressed on a daily basis versus apologizing and feeling better about you and your peer?
Perhaps your behavior set this off as it is often the case as we move up in an organization and progress in our career. In fact it’s been proven that most of the problems between senior managers and executives are not a lack of technical expertise or managerial experience but rather behavioral. Our growing confidence over time can translate itself into inter-personal behavior that has become difficult or toxic with peers.
Goldsmith also provides the following advice: When it comes to apologizing he suggests: ‘ to get in and get out as quickly as possible.’
Don’t wait 28 years like I did – in fact don’t wait 28 minutes. Apologize quickly and move on.
Like me, you may be surprised by your peer’s reaction when you apologize. As a result, you improve your work environment by both becoming better team members.