How to truly apologize (video transcript)

Are you in a situation where you need to apologize for something you did at work or something you did to a coworker? If so, getting that apology right can make the difference between strengthening your trust with that person or sending it in the opposite direction. 

I believe the formula for a good apology is having a balance of both vulnerability and accountability. 

A good apology needs vulnerability

Vulnerability is your willingness to be uncomfortable for the benefit of the person you’re apologizing to. It’s the ownership of not only your behavior, but also its implications and their effect on the other person. 

You might say something like, “I am so sorry I took over in that presentation. That should have been both of ours to present. And you lost valuable face time in front of the leadership team. And I know that doesn’t come around often. I’m sorry.” 

You should feel a bit squeamish about saying that – that’s vulnerability. 

When you’re vulnerable in an apology, it shows that you understand the problem and empathize with the other person, which is an important part of an excellent apology.

But it’s not all. 

A good apology also needs accountability

The accountability part is where you actually make the person feel things will be different next time. This involves suggesting a plan or identifying a remedy to the situation you’re in. 

In this example, you might say, “I will talk with the manager and remind them that this was both of our work, and I’ll ask that you’re the one who presents the follow-up presentation.” 

This demonstrates that you’ve owned your mistake and are committed to remedying the situation.

Liane’s magic apology formula

Imagine an apology that has one half and not the other. 

An apology with a lot of vulnerability but with no accountability is like saying “I suck and I’m going to keep sucking.” That’s not good. 

On the other hand, an apology that’s all accountability in action but with no vulnerability feels robotic and doesn’t feel like you actually understand or sympathize with the damage that your behavior created. That’s not good either. 

We need the magic formula of vulnerability, where you demonstrate an understanding of your behavior and its impact on the other person, and accountability, where you highlight how you are going to fix the problem for the future. 

With this balance of vulnerability and accountability, you can transform mistakes into turning points in a professional relationship that actually strengthen trust.

Messing up is not a death sentence for a relationship: a good apology can actually leave you better off than you were before. 

More on this

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Good and Bad Apologies

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