It’s never easy to apologize, but it’s sometimes necessary. Don’t add insult to injury by making these mistakes when delivering an apology.
Apologies are something we love to receive and hate to give. And especially as a leader, they are tough. They require a great deal of humility, which challenges your pride and ego. They are an open admission of failure and wrongdoing, but when delivered with sincerity, they hold power.
No one is perfect. Leaders are no exception. It’s how they react to those mistakes that either earns or costs them credibility and trust with others.
Unfortunately, too many leaders give superficial apologies loaded with excuses and blame. They become defensive and or attempt to justify their actions. Apologizing for the sake of apologizing is an ingenuine insult to those wronged. If you want to be taken seriously in your company, it’s important to know why an apology is necessary and to deliver it in a way that’s heartfelt and honest.
Here are eight ways to apologize correctly next time you make a mistake.
- Own the Mistake. Placing blame or trying to justify your actions will only diminish the power of your apology and hurt your credibility. Using excuses to justify your mistakes will only intensify the feelings of rejection, animosity, anger, and pain. Simply own your mistake. Acknowledge what you should have done differently and commit to making a change in the future.
- Be First to Apologize. If the mistake or wrongdoing was a result of a joint effort or collaboration of people, be the first to apologize. When you break the ice, you give permission to others to do the same. You also create an expectation that others at fault should apologize when mistakes are made. It shows you have courage and confidence in your decision. Lastly, it grants courage to others afraid of how an apology may be perceived.
- Consider Your Words. Before rushing into an apology, consider how the receiver will interpret what you’re saying and how you say it. What we say when admitting a mistake can affect the trust we establish in the relationship moving forward. If we don’t consider our words carefully, we can add insult to injury and further jeopardize our connection. A simple “I’m sorry” goes a long way. When said in a heartfelt, meaningful way, it resonates with your team allows them to experience the authenticity in your apology.
- Be Specific. Know what you are apologizing for before you do. Don’t rush to apologize without all the facts. The person affected needs to know that you fully understand what you are apologizing for. Having all the facts allows you to elaborate and acknowledge greater ownership. Otherwise, recipients will see your apology as half-hearted and lacking authenticity.
- Make it Personal. The method of apology is as important as the message itself. Recognize when a mistake requires a face-to-face admission and don’t rely on technology to do your heavy lifting. Look them in the eye and apologize. If face-to-face interactions aren’t possible, pick up the phone. Let the offending person hear your voice and acknowledge your sincerity. Just don’t hide behind the screen if the opportunity to look those offended is available.
- Don’t Delay. Sometimes when we make a mistake, we tend to delay our apology to spare ourselves embarrassment or allow time for the situation to diffuse. Rarely does this work as planned. If anything, taking too much time to apologize causes further hurt and frustration. If you can’t apologize face-to-face, don’t wait. Pick up the phone and make immediate contact. If all else fails, draft an eloquent hand-written letter.
- Credibility Matters. Forgiveness is not a given. If you have a habit of making mistakes or transgressions, it’s not likely you’ll rebound with forgiveness quickly. Be patient and recognize consistent behavior executed over time is the only way to rebuild trust and credibility. One way to journey back to favorability begins with humility. Remain humble and listen to others as they share their feelings and reactions to your mistake.
- Break the Cycle. Sometimes, leaders recognize they’ve offended someone, for which they are regretful. The problem is, they don’t know how their actions were offensive, better yet, how to prevent it from happening again. Feedback can be your best tool. Seek feedback from someone you trust who will listen to the situation and help you better understand it from the perspective of the offended. Perhaps your mistake had unintended consequences not immediately obvious. Someone else can help you see it from everybody’s point of view.
All of us make mistakes. Acknowledging those mistakes while taking ownership demonstrates responsibility and maturity as a leader. Apologies allow us to build a stronger, trustworthy relationship with those we lead. They help us grow as professionals and in our roles as leaders. Apologies provide us opportunities to demonstrate our human, more relatable side to those we wish to influence. Owning mistakes sets a great example for our team and creates a safe space for them to do the same.
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Stacey Hanke is the founder and communication expert of Stacey Hanke Inc. She is the author ofand Yes You Can! Everything You Need From A to Z to Influence Others to Take Action. Stacey and her team have delivered thousands of presentations and workshops for leaders of Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola, Nationwide, FedEx, Kohl’s and AbbVie. Learn more about her team and company at: and connect with her on Twitter, @StaceyHankeInc.