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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 January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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