Most people hate to apologize. It’s tough — and, some feel, humiliating — to admit you were wrong. So the next time you’re in a situation in which you feel you should apologize to your team, you’ll be tempted to salvage some of your ego by instead offering a pseudo-apology. This is a common tactic in which, although you say you’re sorry, you’re really putting the blame on someone else.
That’s a bad idea, writes Diana Booher in The Voice of Authority: 10 communication strategies every leader needs to know. The Grapevine, Tex.-based communication trainer says a true apology requires three elements: that you take responsibility for your error or wrongdoing and the resulting consequences; that you apologize for something specific; and that you try to make amends through your actions words or a gesture of goodwill.
In contrast, a pseudo-apology only serves to alienate your team. Booher offers these five examples of common pseudo-apologies, and the real message they convey:
- Apology, plus denial: For example, you say, “No, I didn’t e-mail the meeting agenda to everyone ahead of time. I apologize — I didn’t know I was supposed to do that.” Translation: “I’m not in error here. Whoever was in charge of telling me to do that screwed up, not me.”
- Apology, plus good intentions: “I’ve been putting out fires all morning ever since I came in at 6:30, but I won’t bore you with the details. So I apologize that I didn’t e-mail the meeting agenda to everyone ahead of time.” Translation: “I had good intentions, so please give me some credit for those. Besides, I’m busier than most of you are.”
- Apology, plus excuse: “I apologize for not e-mailing the meeting agenda to everyone ahead of time. It’s just been my experience that nobody ever looks at them ahead of time anyway.” Translation: “There’s no need to apologize, so I’m just going through the motions.”
- Apology, plus personal problems: “I apologize for not e-mailing the meeting agenda to everyone ahead of time. I think I told several of you about how my weekends have been going, so I hope you understand.” Translation: “Please cut me some slack. I have personal problems.”
- Apology, plus attack: “I apologize for not e-mailing the meeting agenda to everyone ahead of time. Bill, Jean — did you have something you were particularly interested in having on there? Was there something you’re not prepared to discuss because you didn’t see this ahead of time? If so, we can postpone the meeting and reconvene tomorrow when you’re more prepared.” Translation: “You people are making a big deal out of every trivial issue undeserving of an apology. Why are you trying to embarrass me? I can make you feel very small for bringing this up.”