How To Apologize With Integrity

Even when the mistake is huge.

Life has high standards and lofty expectations for serious achievers. No matter how much success you attain, you’ll still find yourself making the occasional oversight. Failure is, after all, necessary to innovation.

On the journey of success, mistakes are inevitable. After all,it’s all about progress not perfection. Right?

We might upset a client.

We might forget our diet plan and binge out on pizza.

We might make a mistake that costs our company thousands.

We might let a slip of the tongue damage a relationship.

How you handle your mistakes can be the difference between total redemption and losing a client, a relationship, or even your reputation.

Most of us are raised to follow a mistake with an apology with the understanding that we’d then be forgiven and all would be right with the world once again.

And in an ideal version of reality, that would be all that’s necessary. But we all know that person whose taken advantage of the system. Wreaking havoc and leaving a trail of half-hearted apologies in their wake.

We’ve gotten wise to this charade. We’re more discerning. We may forgive, but we won’t be fooled into forgetting again and again.

The fact is that "I'm sorry" has been overused and with overuse its meaning has diminished. Just uttering the words doesn’t make things better. Even if we do it with conviction.

When you offer an apology, you want to let the other person know their perspective matters without acting defensive, groveling, or further damaging your relationship.

Here are 8 keys to a dignified apology, because even a mistake can be turned into an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity:

1. Take Responsibility

If someone comes to you with an accusation, ensure that you actually made the error or had some hand in it. If you did have culpability, own up to it right away providing that the ramifications are emotional and don’t involve legal liability. DO NOT apologize just because someone else thinks you should. There’s no need to lower yourself so someone else can feel better. Integrity is all about honesty and respect for ourselves as well as others.

2. Get Confirmation

Make sure you're on the same page. What exactly was the oversight? Be sure it was actually a mistake and not the fallout of a known risk. Looking back could you have avoided the error or was it your best shot? Were the risks and standards properly communicated? Confirmation has the added benefit of making the other person feel understood, helping them to forgive faster.

3. Know your purpose

Have a goal in mind. Why is it important for you to apologize? Is it to end a fight or strengthen a relationship? Are you apologizing to build professional trust or preemptively before your oversight is discovered? Know what you want the end result to be and customize your apology according to the outcome you want.

4. Be Empathetic

Once you've established that an apology is in order, consider their point of view when formulating it. How must they feel? What must they be thinking? What additional burdens or worries have been added to their plate. Make it clear you understand the impact your mistake had on them.

5. Apologize, But Don't Say "I'm Sorry"

This is an often misunderstood personal rule of mine. Though the recipients of my apologies have never complained, the rule itself can be misconstrued as arrogance or narcissism if you didn’t understand the intent. But there’s a method to this madness. There's so much that those two seemingly innocuous words say beyond what we intend them to mean. Subconsciously, it’s a declaration of your subservience to the other person and a verbal undermining of yourself. The phrase, “I’m sorry.” steals your power. Sorry means deplorable. You are not sorry. Try, “I apologize for…” instead.

6. Fix It

Apologizing for making a mess and then promptly leaving that same mess for someone else to clean up is burdensome to the very person you’re trying to win over again. If you know how to fix your mistake. Do it right away. Offer to fix it, help, or at least tell them, in detail, how you plan to go about fixing it. They’ll feel more comfortable about your mistake knowing you’re prepared to remedy the situation. Plus, talk is cheap. When you back an apology up with action, you’re elevating the sincerity.

7. Assure, If You Can

It won't happen again...right? Assure the other person the error won't continue to occur, if and only if you intend to put a preventative plan in place. Sometimes there’s a known risk of failure. If that’s the case there’s no apology necessary. But if the mistake wasn’t an acceptable part of the process and you can’t promise it won’t happen again, you’re going to have to own it (none of us is perfect). You can also communicate that the other person's standards may need revision.

8. Be Appreciative

A little appreciation can go a long way toward smoothing things over. In moments like this, it’s easy to get so focused on our own self-judgement you forget to demonstrate gratitude.Take a little time to make them feel better. Thank the other person for being understanding and be patient with the process. This is a little sales trick I learned. If they already think of themselves as understanding and patient, they'll want to continue to live up to the characteristics you see in them.

In any relationship, it's unreasonable to think you'll never be let down by another or that you'll never make a mistake yourself. People don’t expect perfection from us, but they do want to know that when a mistake is made they won’t be left holding the bag.

Oversights are bound to happen. Especially for those of us living fearlessly, pushing limits, and growing every single day. Inevitably you’ll cross a boundary or make a mistake. When you do apologize, but do it in a way that strengthens your relationship.

Tried out my technique? I'd love to hear about it... Drop a line in the comments section below.