Do you think it’s ok to apologize to your clients? Do you think you should?
You have probably noticed in the online business space, that a lot of people are talking about why you shouldn’t apologize. For example, this article on Lifehack talks about the benefits of remaining positive and saying, “Thank you for your patience” instead of “Sorry I’m late.”
Now, a lot of this I completely agree with, especially in the right circumstances…(we can talk about that more later). I know that positivity is always the best approach to any situation, and that expressing gratitude and acknowledging your appreciation of others is incredibly meaningful and beneficial. However, it seems that many people are being led astray or blurring the lines, and we are beginning to notice crucial pieces are missing from this conversation. Whether it’s intentional or not, people are being encouraged to NOT apologize.
Here’s an example…Let’s say you mess something up for a client. Instead of saying “Oh, I’m sorry I missed that,” some might suggest you to say “Oh, thanks for catching that” It seems nice at first thought, but after you think about it (or try it yourself), you might realize that it doesn’t quite seem to adequately communicate what you feel and know should be communicated. Does it really help us maintain positivity and confidence in ourselves if we are simply spouting off some trendy phrase that skirts the issue just enough to keep us from taking responsibility? Have you seen those “say this, not that” graphics? Here’s what I mean…
The meaning of these new alternative phrases do have some good intention (and they may be beneficial at times), but they also become dangerous, and (in my opinion), unprofessional! At first, it may seem like there’s nothing wrong with using these alternative phrases. It does sound nice to avoid offering an apology by simply remaining positive and practicing gratitude, right?!
We might be motivated to use these new phrases in order to avoid feeling ashamed or disappointed in ourselves, or to maintain our reputation and make ourselves look better. While some may have the intention of using an alternative phrase to highlight positivity, others may use the same phrase with the intention of preserving their status quo. Using an alternative phrase such as these to purposefully avoid giving an apology can be (or come across as) manipulative or inconsiderate. Wow, that all took a turn really fast.
I remember when I first started thinking about how to use these phrases and I thought I should try things in this way, without offering an apology. I quickly realized that these alternative phrases suggested to us online may not be responses that guarantee we will be communicating with integrity. Sometimes these phrases may be fine, but when a situation arose for me that strictly deserved an apology, it didn’t feel right to skirt around the issue or try to somehow avoid the elephant in the room. It felt icky. It felt manipulative and dishonest!
Have you felt this way or had these thoughts?
We might use these catchy phrases because acknowledging that we missed the mark makes us feel less than perfect and we simply want to feel “good” about ourselves. Perhaps we don’t want the client to think we are incapable. It’s important to have boundaries when speaking with clients and maintain a good reputation, but it’s more important to be intentional with the words we speak and the motives with which we speak them! It all comes down to motives. It’s about building trust!
We have a job as online business owners to discern for ourselves when to apologize and to be willing to apologize.
I believe that many people would wish to remove the phrase, “I’m sorry”, suggesting that it does more harm than good, by pointing out your flaws and making you lose confidence, and perhaps also suggesting to the other party that you don’t have what it takes. I would like to firmly challenge that belief and say, isn’t that good? Isn’t it right to be aware of our shortcomings and admit when we need to improve our actions? Isn’t it beneficial to keep both individuals in a relationship aware of where growth is needed?
What’s disheartening about these suggested alternatives to an apology is that we aren’t realizing how these responses have developed into defensive mechanisms. It’s damaging to ourselves because we aren’t communicating to ourselves the need to change, nor are we communicating to others that we intend to change. By refusing to apologize, we come across as inauthentic, and we limit the success of our relationships as we put up walls, trying to protect ourselves.
Let’s revisit the definition of “sorry”:
feeling sorrow or sympathy
We have somehow diminished the meaning of this word. Having sorrow and sympathy are genuine expressions of compassion. Feeling sorrow or sympathy connects us, heals us and helps us work better together.
When looking up the definition, I couldn’t help but notice that the same word is used to say, “I’m sorry for your loss” and also, “Sorry, I’m late”. That doesn’t feel right, but it’s only because we have misused the word and neglected it’s true meaning. It’s been treated similarly to the phrase, “I love you”, which can cover a wide range of actual meaning and intention.
The depth of sympathy behind our words might be different, but the meaning and the definition are the same. It’s the intention and the motive that matter when we use this word “sorry”. Our intention with our words is what matters most, and allowing others to feel our compassion towards them. Isn’t this a fundamental teaching we learned at a very young age? Why are we trying to avoid a word of compassion? How does avoiding this compassionate word help our own self worth or others?
I’m sad to say that I feel like our society has become uncomfortable with feeling “sorry” overall. No one wants to feel sorry. No one wants to feel sorrow.
Isn’t that what’s missing from this conversation online? Feeling sorrow? Feeling compassion? Being human? Owning up to our mistakes? If we lose the ability to experience sorrow and compassion, we lose our ability to connect and create truly meaningful relationships.
Of course, I’m talking about experiencing sorrow when the situations at hand might not be so ‘devastating’, but the problem is that we have allowed this thinking and these beliefs to infiltrate our everyday operations, our day-to-day communications, our businesses, and most importantly, our meaningful relationships. Note: Your business relationships are still personal relationships.
When we refuse to say sorry, we put ourselves in a defensive position. We place ourselves as opposers to the person who we let down, instead of becoming equally disappointed that their end goal was not met or that they experienced some type of loss. As soon as this happens, we begin to consciously or unconsciously justify ourselves by opting out with a handy pocket phrase instead of a genuine message of compassion. If we are a key player on their team, shouldn’t we also be genuinely affected when the goals we are working on with them are not met? Shouldn’t we be a bit disappointed in ourselves if that was from a result of our own actions?
What we thought we were doing to create healthy boundaries by not apologizing to our clients, business partners, etc. is actually limiting us from having personal authentic relationships, from growing in maturity and true leadership. I believe that as service providers it is absolutely our responsibility to go the extra mile and say, “Yes, I did drop the ball”, or “That was on me, I’m sorry about that”. The intention and effort to really be authentic and to offer a genuine apology about coming up short continues to build trust with the person you’re working with. As you continue with this intention to cultivate healthy relationships, those relationships will flourish and continue to work well.
Let’s be real.
If our client knows that we dropped the ball on something, but yet we’re refusing to own up to that, we are essentially lying to them and to ourselves. We’re ignoring that there may be a problem and we are refusing to simply say, “Yes, that sucked, it was my fault, and I’m actually going to put something different into place so that this doesn’t happen again”.
Why are we afraid to apologize? That should be the question we are asking ourselves, not “hmm, how can improve my self worth and reputation when others see me mess up?”
We should be learning how to apologize well, instead of learning the art of avoidance.
It doesn’t have to be a dig on our own self worth, it’s empowering to apologize and commit to improve your actions or improve your situations.
If we consistently avoid giving authentic apologies, and these kinds of issues aren’t addressed, then we could end up with unhealthy client relationships, or unhealthy co-working relationships. Owning up to our mistakes and choosing to communicate with integrity from the start, will set you up to succeed in the future. These conversations, and offering transparency in our mistakes are built around trust, but they become easier when we know how to love and accept ourselves. If you can confidently say I messed that up, then owning up to your mistakes is not something to avoid. We must have that confidence and that assurance that the mistakes we are apologizing for do not determine our worth or our value. When we determine this, we can approach each situation with integrity and make a real impact.
Apologizing and owning up to mistakes or shortcomings is only an indicator, it just says something. It tells me something I can do differently in the future, and it’s a symptom for what might need to grow or change. It’s just a symptom of something, we can provide a solution for.
Let’s set ourselves up for success and own up to our mistakes, it’s simple to say “I’m sorry, I will take care of that.” This may take courage as we grow in our own confidence and self worth, but it refuels are sense of worth and purpose when we show up this way. It’s disempowering to attempt preserving our own reputation, trusting in our own pride and ego, and delicately using words to make sure no bombs set off. That’s a recipe for anxiety, with a lot of potential for shrapnel in the explosion.
Before I end my thoughts here, I must address what I feel is equally important: How to navigate offering an apology in unhealthy relationships. If you’re reading and you feel anxiety about the premise of apologizing to a client or co-worker that is borderline abusive, you have some different things to consider. Remember that offering an apology comes from a place of compassion, authenticity, vulnerability and trust. No one would ever suggest that a child apologize to their abuser, and you shouldn’t either. Compassion and trust are foundational components of any healthy relationship, and if those do not exist (or cannot grow) in the working relationships in your life, plan an exit strategy. You can exit with poise, but exit you must.
What’s the bottom line? What should I say when I mess up?
1. Do apologize when you feel the need to do so. Offer a genuine apology and also express your gratitude. Own up to your mistakes, but continue cultivating positive connections in your relationships.
2. Whatever you say, mean it. Speak with intention. Only speak compassionate words to the extent that you mean them.
By following these two principles in your communication, you should never feel the need to avoid offering an apology or owning up to your mistakes, you will grow in confidence and you will notice improved relationships.