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Why It’s Important to be Wrong: The Valuable Art of Apology

Why It’s Important to be Wrong: The Valuable Art of Apology

    Have you noticed how obsessed we all are with getting things right? Not only that, but doing the right thing quicker and better than ever before. Everywhere you turn, there are books, magazines and blogs dedicated to making sure we have the secrets of success so we don’t screw up. In the face of all this rampant perfectionism, it’s easy to overlook the importance of being OK without getting it wrong now and then.

    I had a bad day yesterday. In fact, I would go so far as to say that my morning was one hot mess and that there is no one to blame but me. I handled a couple of issues SPECTACULARLY badly. By 10am, I had done some serious, but hopefully impermanent damage to some important relationships in my life, both personal and professional.

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    To Err is human

    “Shut Up, Shut Up, Shut Up!”, the mature part of me was screaming, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the part of me that was driving the bus at the time. All in all, it was an epic fail on the “impulse control front.” For someone adept at navigating the grey complexities of ethics in both academic and professional life, it’s rather bizarre how obnoxiously black and white I can be when things get personal. Now that my blood pressure has gone back down to normal, I cringe as I reflect on my vehement and indignant behavior.

    Being able to see that we (may) have made an error of judgment is a good thing. Not least because it keeps our ego in check and teaches us some humility.

    The Customer is always right

    In business, the old saying “the customer is always right” still holds true. Customer service, or lack thereof, can make or break a company. At the foundation of good customer service is the ability to apologize and to do it well. One often cited example of best practice is from 1982 when a Japanese Airlines plane crashed in Tokyo Bay. The president of the airline went promptly and personally met with and apologized to each family of the crash victims.

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    Not only is it the right thing to do, but in some cases, it actually pays to apologize. Take the world of medical malpractice, where the traditional consensus amongst attorneys defending doctors who were being sued used to be to advocate silence. However, some more recent research has challenged this way of thinking. One of the most famous cases is the VA Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. The Lexington VA has a policy surrounding medical error which actually encourages communication of sympathy and admissions of fault. Not only that but the VA is proactive in disclosing errors and offers help on how to file a claim.

    This policy of extreme honesty, practiced since the late 1980s, has reportedly reduced lawsuits and settlement and defense costs. Only three cases have gone to trial in 17 years, with the average settlement being $16,000, compared with the national VA average of $98,000.”

    Robert J Walling and Shawna S. Ackerman (2006) “Having to say your sorry: A More Efficient Medical Mal Practice Insurance Model.”

    The disclaimer

    While saying sorry might avoid a law suit in many circumstances, if you find yourself in a situation that has a chance of ending in legal proceedings, it is always advisable to consult an attorney because in some states, saying “I’m sorry” can be used as an admission of guilt in court.

    How not to apologize

    Of course, all apologies are not created equal and it’s said that in business, a bad apology can actually be detrimental in some circumstances. In a 2006 Inc. article, Allison Stein Wellner referred to research by Jennifer K. Robbennolt, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law. In a study of apology letters written after a hypothetical accident, Wellner discovered that victims who received a partial apology (interpreted as I’m sorry if you think I should apologize) were actually less likely to accept a settlement offer than those who received no apology at all.

    Another common pitfall is what Lauren Bloom, attorney, ethics expert and author of the Art of Apology ebook describes as the “if/any game.” She describes it as one of the apology errors that politicians frequently make when they say, “if my actions offended anybody, then I apologize.”

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    Elements of a good apology

    There is quite a lot of helpful information to be had on the art and/or science of apologizing. Some of the key elements are sincerity, timing, taking full responsibility, acknowledging the hurt or damage caused, asking for forgiveness, future intentions and restitution. The website PerfectApology.com points to the letter and video by Jet Blue founder and Ceo David Neeleman as a perfect business apology. “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry…(for) the worst operational week in JetBlue’s seven year history.”

    Hard to say

    If it’s tricky to say sorry in business, how much harder is it in our personal relationships? Owning our short-comings can be hard. An apology can feel like an admission of failure, an undesirable acknowledgment of our human frailty. There is often fear attached to a real or perceived threat that an admission of a mistake may be used against us in the future. We may be afraid that our apology will not be accepted, that it will be greeted with anger, that it will result in more conflict when we seek to avoid confrontation.

    But, when all is said and done, I still believe that owning up to being wrong is the right thing to do. It equips us with the ability to see things from more than one perspective. It offers the opportunity to cultivate persistence and not to quit. It reminds us that life is not a performance or a test but a learning experience.

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    Conclusion

    To err is human, as the saying goes, but to forgive is divine. I’m counting on the divine intervention necessary that I might be able to give myself and everyone else permission to screw up and to learn from our mistakes. For at the end of the day, sometimes it simply comes down to this, “Would you rather be right or be happy?”

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    Last Updated on April 11, 2019

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

    I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

    I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

    Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    How Communication Skills Help Your Success

    Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

    Create a Positive Experience

    Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

    When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

    What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

    Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

    As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

    Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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    Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

    Help Leadership Skills

    It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

    Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

    As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

    Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

    If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

    Build Better Teams

    Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

    In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

    If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

    When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

    Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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    How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

    There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

    Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

    1. Listen

    Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

    Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

    People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

    Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

    Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

    2. Know Your Audience

    Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

    Here is a good way to think about it:

    Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

    You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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    3. Minimize

    I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

    He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

    Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

    State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

    The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

    4. Over Communicate

    So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

    What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

    Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

    Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

    Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

    There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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    5. Body Language

    The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

    When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

    In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

    When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

    Conclusion

    Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

    Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

    There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

    Now go communicate your way to success.

    More Resources About Effective Communication

    Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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