When You Goof, It’s Okay to Apologize

by Bhaj Townsend

At times, I will publish in my newsletter articles on topics that I find relevant written by people who I find interesting and of course, want to be published in my newsletter. One time, one person had agreed to write an article for my newsletter, in plenty of time. They knew the deadline, they knew the approximate length of the article, and they knew the subject. They were excited to be included in presenting to you.

We reminded the individual of the deadline about a week before that deadline passed. They replied with great confidence that the article would be submitted.  “Great!”, I thought in appreciative anticipation. We sent out a friendly reminder a few days before the deadline. We received communication back letting us that the article would be sent. 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.

For me the most intriguing element to this situation is what happened after I sent the final reminder. Nothing happened. No answer. Silence. No email, no communication, no nothing.

So, here I am. This incidence prompts me to write about: Apology.

Because things happen: deadlines are missed, meetings and follow up calls are forgotten, promises are overlooked, it’s about what we do about when we goof that tells more about who we are.

Apology, I think, has two distinct and often separate components: The first one is an “I am sorry, you are right and I am wrong” element; the second one is the opportunity   to acknowledge an issue. This issue might be a transgression. It might be a misunderstanding. The apology becomes a means to bring the issue to the forefront and move toward resolution and, I will add, consequences (at times.)  

Ironically, I recently read a book called: “Wait” by Frank Partnoy. The author described apology and 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 handled the apology differently. The ones who followed the four steps described above fared better in the press.

What is the point to all this? I think it is this: We are going to screw up. It is how we handle the issue and the subsequent apology that makes all the difference. Will we justify it, blame the person we transgressed, go overboard on the apology or deal with it? Next time I see you, please share with me how you handled (or didn’t) an apology, I will do the same.