No Point in Apologizing if You Can’t Admit You’re Wrong

Do you find it difficult to apologize when you’ve done something that hurts or offends someone? It isn’t easy to admit when you’re wrong. But you risk damaging your reputation and relationships if you don’t offer a sincere apology.

Hillary Clinton learned this the hard way when the media and public didn’t buy that she used her private email “for convenience” in government correspondence while she was Secretary of State.

Jon Stewart skewered her in this skit using portions of her press conference in which she offered an excuse but not an apology.

It’s Disrespectful Not to Apologize

You have to own your apology. A lot of people tell a lie or make an excuse rather than apologizing and then they can’t dig themselves out of it.

“It’s disrespectful not to apologize,” says Jackie Black PhD, BCC, a relationship coach. “The way to deliver an apology is to recognize upfront that what you did or said has hurt and upset the other person.”

It’s not enough to just apologize. Define the affronting behavior. “I’m sorry that I lost my temper and made those offensive comments about your work.” The person expecting an apology just wants to know that you know and acknowledge that you have wronged him in some way.

Dr. Black says that you should acknowledge that you offended the person. My bad. Say something like, “It matters to me that what I did negatively impacted you. I want you to know that I care and wish I hadn’t done it. I will be mindful in the future not to do it again.”

She describes her own personal experience of working for a senior corporate executive who often yelled at his staff. When she told him how it made her feel, he was shocked. He had grown up in a large family where the only way to be heard was to yell.

He told her, “I had no idea how my yelling would make you feel. I will never yell at you again.” He never meant to be mean. It was just the way he had learned to communicate.

When someone sincerely apologizes for his behavior, be gracious in accepting the apology. Be clear about how you experienced the offense. But don’t continue to hold a grudge. The point is to mend the breach and move on.

Change Your Behavior

A colleague recently recounted a business lunch experience. She arrived at the appointed time and after waiting for a half hour, called her lunch date. To her dismay, he told her he hadn’t left his office yet because he had to take care of a few things first. What was he thinking?

He never apologized or offered to take her to lunch another time. That effectively killed the relationship.

Some people are chronically late (i.e. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio) and feel everything is OK if they say they’re sorry. But if you’re always late, then your apology is insincere. It’s no longer an apology; it’s an excuse. If you don’t change your behavior then you’re just blowing someone off with an apology.

Keep doing the same insensitive things over and over and you’ll find yourself isolated and out of a job. Being insensitive and not meeting deadlines and commitments is just plain bad manners. You’ll damage your reputation and lose the trust of people who are important to you.

Be honest with yourself and don’t make excuses for your behavior. Hillary Clinton no doubt feels she was operating within the rules when she used her personal email for government business.

But she needs to acknowledge that her behavior offended a lot of people, especially when she revealed she had deleted 30,000 personal emails.

She would have maintained her credibility if she had said something like, “I’m confidant that I was in compliance with the law, but I realize now that I upset people by using my private email, and I’m sorry for that. If I could go back, I would have used separate email accounts for my personal use and government business.” Would that have been so difficult?

As the business guru Warren Buffet has said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

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