John Wayne, (or one of his many characters), once said, “ Never apologize, Mister. It’s a sign of weakness”
He may have been right in many things but in this, he was mistaken. Apologies, the good kind, take a lot of courage and humility to pull off. There is nothing weak about that.
But what constitutes a good apology? And, what can we expect when we make it? Here’s what comes to mind for me.
A good apology starts with the right motivation ~ The most sincere reason for making an apology is simply to express deep regret and a desire to make a wrong, right again. Anything else, like apologizing because doing so will make us feel better, is not much of an apology at all.
A good apology involves exposure and vulnerability …our own. Apologizing well means that we have to lay aside all of our ‘built-in’ protective devices. In other words, an apology accompanied by an excuse or a deflection of blame isn’t going to cut it. To make it real, we have to reveal ourselves as the imperfect beings we are. That’s the scary part.
A good apology includes willingness to make amends ~ We can’t unsay hurtful words or undo hurtful actions. But if we show intent to listen and make an effort to repair the damage we’ve caused, the possibility of restoring trust is that much greater.
Of course offering an apology, even a good one, is only the beginning.
So what can we realistically expect from those to whom we apologize? Well, here it is in one word.
We can expect nothing because those who hear our apology have the right to decide how they are going to respond to it. Chances are, if it is offered sincerely and with genuine intention to make amends, the work of reparation can begin. But there are no guarantees. Sometimes we simply have to learn to live with the knowledge that we have inflicted a hurt for which we are not forgiven…and accept the consequences that come out of that.
Having said that, I can think of two things we can expect from the process of rebuilding a broken trust
It will take a long time ~ There are no quick fixes here. Rebuilding trust requires consistent proof through word and deed that re-establishing damaged relationships is a priority. It takes patience and consistent effort. And, it is not for the offender to say when it’s over.
Those who offend are never in the position to choose the depth or breadth of their consequences. ~ For instance, during Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, he said, “I deserve to be punished. I’m not sure I deserve the death penalty”
To me, whatever his punishment, it is not up to Mr. Armstrong to decide its nature or severity. His apology is only a good one if he is willing to let go of control and accept whatever consequences come from his offence. I think that’s true for the rest of us too.
The Bottom Line
If you are a human being, at some point you will have said or done something for which you need to apologize. If you are a leader of other human beings, this will be especially true because, like or not, you are a role model and as such, the magnifying glass is on you. So, when you mess up, the apology needs to be a good one.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?