Advertising
Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.”

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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?”

    More by this author

    Breaking Up is Hard to do – 20 Questions to Help You Know When it’s Time to Let go Six Sizzling Suggestions to Make Valentine’s Day Last All Year Why Productivity Won’t Make You Happy: Life Lessons From a Dying Man Why It’s Important to be Wrong: The Valuable Art of Apology What You Ought to Know About Buying Perfect Holiday Gifts for Loved Ones

    Trending in Communication

    1 How to Make Changes in Life To Be The Very Best Version of You 2 Adapting to Change: Why It Matters and How to Do It 3 Why It’s Never Too Late To Redefine Yourself 4 Feeling Like It Might Be Too Late To Pursue Your Dreams? Think Again 5 How SMART Goal Setting Makes Lasting Changes in Your Life

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on February 18, 2019

    Why It’s Never Too Late To Redefine Yourself

    Why It’s Never Too Late To Redefine Yourself

    The ability to reinvent and redefine yourself is a bold, daring and purposeful choice. It doesn’t just happen. You have to make a conscious, intentional choice and then follow through.

    If the thought of forging a new path, changing habits, thought patterns and your inner circle of friends scares you – you’re not alone. Change can be a very scary thing. It takes courage, fortitude and a bit of faith to decide to shed your old self and don a new persona. However, it is one of the most critical processes one must repeatedly endure in the pursuit of destiny. Change unlocks new levels of potential.

    The Need for Change

    Everyday when we wake up, we make a decision. We decide to follow our routine or we decide to go off script and shake things up a bit. For those who are creatures of habit, routine is comfortable, easy and produces very little stress. The problem with this is, after a while you stop growing.

    Advertising

    We all reinvent ourselves at some point in our lives. It is absolutely necessary to achieve certain levels of success.

    Reflect back on who you were as a teenager and then who you were at 25. Those are two very different people. Most of us are completely different. Your thought patterns changed, your appearance, job, level of education and even your friends– changed. We like to refer to this as “growing up” or maturing and consider it to be one of life’s natural progressions. However the changes you made were purposeful and deliberate.

    This process must be a lifelong and continuous cycle. You are never too old to refresh yourself.

    Advertising

    Happy_old_man

      Signs It’s Time to Redefine

      “Just as established products and brands need updating to stay alive and vibrant, you periodically need to refresh or reinvent yourself.”– Mireille Guiliano

      So how do you know when it’s time for a system upgrade? There are signs along the way that alert you that it is time for an overhaul. The first sign is the feeling of being stuck. If you feel like you are in a rut, you’re bored with life or you need some newness and excitement, a self reinvention may be in order. Re-evaluate your life vision and your goals. Is that vision still valid and are your goals consistent with your vision and–are they achievable? If you are off course, it’s time for a change. If you are not moving forward and making progress, it’s time for a change.

      Advertising

      In life, there’s no such thing as neutrality–you’re either moving forward or you are moving backward. Time constantly moves forward and if you are standing still, you are actually losing ground. No matter your age or stage in life– there is always room for improvement.

      “You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” ~C. S. Lewis

      The second sign that you are due for a change is the occurrence of major life events in which change is forced upon you. Getting married, starting a new job, being promoted, ending a relationship, becoming a parenting or relocating are all prime opportunities to completely overhaul your life.

      Advertising

      When these major shifts occur in your life–you have to shift with them. You can’t have a single mentality and have a successful marriage. You can’t remain selfish and irresponsible, and raise a healthy, well-adjusted child. You can’t be promoted to a supervisory position and keep the same subordinate attitude. Each level of success requires something different from you.

      Aronld in Predator

        Consider, for a moment, Arnold Schwarzenegger. People may have different opinions about his character and some of his life choices, but he is a master at reinventing himself. He achieved the ultimate success as a professional body builder by earning the title “Mr. Universe” three times. He then earned a tremendous amount of fame and fortune in the entertainment industry making action/adventure films. And in his latest role, he served two terms as the Governor of California. He succeeded as a professional body builder, a film star and a politician. Each role required massive amounts of change, commitment, strength and hard work.

        And if Arnold can do it…so can you!

        Featured photo credit: BK via flickr.com

        Read Next