We have all heard that its important to say sorry when someone feels things have not gone as hoped but to demonstrate this point let me tell you a story with two endings.
Tom was walking through a corridor at work. It was a long corridor with lots of double doors.
Walking a few paces in front of Tom was Gerry. Gerry was preoccupied with a meeting he was on his way to and didn’t know Tom was behind him, so when he walked through a set of double doors he didn’t hold them open and they swung back to hit Tom in the face.
Gerry looked back when he heard Tom say “Ouch!” but he didn’t say sorry, he just turned around and hurried off to his meeting.
That night Tom was still angry with Gerry, he kept thinking how rude he was and what a bad person. Forever more Tom would think of Gerry as a bad person.
But what if the story ended link this…?
Gerry looked back when he heard Tom say “Ouch!” and turned to see if Tom was ok.
“I’m so sorry Tom, I didn’t see you there, are you ok, did the door catch you?” Said Gerry.
Tom replied, “Yeah I’m fine, no problem Gerry, hope your meeting goes well“
That night Tom watched The Great British Bake Off with his wife and had a perfectly pleasant evening, he had forgotten all about Gerry and that door.
So we can see, a simple apology turned an every day mistake or misunderstanding from something that could foster negativity and resentment to a non-event. The flip side of that is the lack of an apology can negatively effect a relationship for ever.
So remember, if someone feels aggrieved, they feel they are due an apology.
Why people don’t say sorry
Some times people don’t want to say sorry because they don’t feel they are at fault, or because they don’t want to give a perception that a mistake was made. At times like this its important to remember that we can say sorry for something without taking responsibility for it.
Time for another story…
Tom got a phone call from someone who was very angry about some paperwork not being completed on time. Tom replied saying “Well its not my fault, you want to call Gerry, he was meant to finish that paperwork, not me!”
The person on the phone got even more angry and decided to complain to Tom and Gerry’s line-manager about their department.
What Tom could have said was…
“I’m sorry to hear you haven’t received the paperwork when you were expecting to, if its ok I will see if I can find out what the time scale on that is and let you know when you can expect to get it”
The angry person on the phone calmed down and was grateful and later when they were talking to Tom and Gerry’s line manager they mentioned how helpful Tom had been and Tom was later chosen for a promotion.
Again, we see that the lack of an apology can have a negative effect, even when it isn’t our fault something has gone wrong. In this scenario tom was able to say he was sorry that someone’s expectations weren’t met without taking responsibility for it or admitting something had gone wrong. He just said he was sorry they didn’t receive the paperwork when they expected to.
Did you notice…?
In both of these examples the apology was not delivered on its own, there was a second component.
With the first example Gerry said he was sorry and offered empathy by asking if Tom was ok.
Our second scenario had Tom offer to take action to get answers in addition to saying he was sorry.
While an apology is always important and the lack of one can be very detrimental, its just one ingredient in defusing a situation. Remember an apology on its own will only get you so far. There needs to be positive action attached to that apology to help change someones perspective.