Apologies Work

Last November we asked a colleague to write an article for my monthly Legacy Connection newsletter. They were pleased to be invited and agreed to write a 500 to 750 word article due right before Christmas.

We contacted the individual a week before the deadline. They replied with great assurance that the article would be submitted soon. “Great!” I thought in appreciative anticipation. We sent out a friendly reminder a few days before the deadline. We received communication back letting us know the article was almost done. We sent a reminder the day of the deadline. We received an email that the article would be sent by the end of the day. And then the deadline passed.

Here is where it got interesting. No article came; no email with explanation; no response to my follow up email; no communication when I asked if they wanted to talk about it; nothing, zero, silence.

I was stunned, not about the article so much, delays and missed deadlines can happen. I was stunned at the lack of communication; no let me rephrase that, not that lack of it, the end of communication.

This prompted me to write about: Apology. Things happen: deadlines are missed, meetings and follow up calls are forgotten, and promises are overlooked. It’s what we do when we goof that says more about who we are.

Apology, I think, has two distinct and often separate components: The first one is the common “I am sorry, you are right and I am wrong” element. The second one is the forum to acknowledge an issue. This issue might be a transgression. It might be a misunderstanding. This apology becomes a means to bring that issue to the forefront with intent to explain, express and mend.
Serendipitously, I recently read a book called: “Wait” by Frank Partnoy. In it, the author described the effective four steps to use when apologizing.
1. acknowledge
2. explain what happened
3. express remorse
4. repair what happened

Think about recent high media examples of apology: Lance Armstrong on alleged drug use, NRA President, John Ross on guns, or the Ambassador to Japan on a recent alleged assault in Okinawa. Each of these appeared trite in their public statement. They did not use these four steps. Contrast this to Southwest Airlines when they handled a multiple charging of a promotional discount. They used the four elements listed above and received tremendous press and public appreciation.
We are going to screw up. It is how we handle the issue and the subsequent apology that makes all the difference.

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