Bad v. Good Apology

Article by , November 4, 2020

Bad v. Good Apology

When we hear an apology, we know if it’s bad or good. But offering an apology is a different experience.

A bad apology justifies or explains away our error. It paints a picture of why we did what we did or why we should be forgiven. It might sound like: “I didn’t mean to ___, rather, I was only attempting to___”, or “This only happened because I thought ___, please understand where I’m coming from.”

Of course, trying to explain our actions is natural. But a bad apology rationalizes our error, even for the leader mistake.

A good apology has four elements:

  1. Focuses on the other person(s) and how they have been affected by your mistake. It doesn’t assume you know how they feel or what they need, rather, it asks. When leaders truly listen—and do not argue—they open the door to making real amends.
  2. Takes responsibility. It doesn’t distribute, dilute, or delegate responsibility. It acknowledges an error and remorse. A good apology sounds like: “I am sorry. I was wrong.”
  3. Makes amends. After listening and understanding how other(s) were impacted, it addresses what can, is, and will be done to correct the mistake.
  4. Builds trust. After reflection and identification of lessons learned, it communicates what you will do differently in the future.

Meaningful mistakes require reflection, without obsession. Understand how you contributed to the mistake without getting hung up on “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” This type of thinking is not uncommon when the stakes are really high and we take on full responsibility for the error (rightfully or not). If this happens to you, a qualified coach can help you break the cycle of rumination and get back on track with productive self-reflection.

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist & EQ Executive Coach and Mindful Leadership Consultant
Trusted Leadership Advisor

Professional Certified Coach (PCC), International Coach Federation

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