Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Unapologetically Yours (Sorry, not Sorry)

In an article titled “Best Way to Apologize? Starbucks,Business Experts on the Art of Saying Sorry” (March 18, 2013), Bruna Martinuzzi opens with:

“Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s leading executive coaches, said, “I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make.” In his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall lists the refusal to express regret and to apologize as one of the top 20 transactional flaws performed by one person against another. These apply equally at work and at home. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand how to apologize effectively. To be a great leader, it’s important to understand no just why you should apologize, but how and when to apologize as well.”

She goes on to say:

“More and more today, we’re seeing the value of moving away from the Teflon-type of leader to a leader who can summon the courage to say “I’m sorry.” Leadership is fundamentally a relationship, and an apology, when it’s warranted, is an investment in the future of the relationship—whether it’s with a co-worker or a customer, a superior or a subordinate.”

(Or even just a human being.)

Teflon-type. That has always given me a chuckle.

Goldsmith was right about an apology being "the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make."

(Operative phrase: human being.)

Imagine that. An apology as a business tactic. I love the throwaway line, “These apply equally at work and at home.”

Ya think?
 “If you view apologizing as the equivalent of swallowing a bitter pill, consider the benefits.”

Consider the benefits? Hmmm…

I understand where this article is coming from, and have no problem with it or its writer in any way. My ‘commentary’ here is more about the fact that so many facets of personal interaction have segued into the “How-tos” of business literature (best-sellers, even). This is not the problem, either; the messenger doesn’t matter if the word gets out. Some ‘suits’ may prefer being seen with a business best-seller rather than something found in the ‘self-help/spirituality’ section—hey, I’ve got a rep to protect. But again, as long as the right message gets out, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. The problem occurs when the elements of personal communication become merely a business tactic used with a specific objective of gain in mind, and never used properly when dealing on a personal level.

At the bottom of the article is even a link to another article entitled, “Do a Cost/Benefit Analysis of an Apology.”  Another chuckle.

In the movie, You’ve Got Mail, the two main characters have a continuing discussion about the phrase, “It’s nothing personal, just business.” (His company put hers out of business.) Their last conversation about it goes like this:

            Joe Fox: It wasn’t…personal.
Kathleen Kelly: What’s that supposed to mean? I’m so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s *personal* to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal anyway?
Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.
Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

It’s wonderful that the business sector has embraced the idea of ‘personalizing’ business behavior—basically by employing the main elements of ‘effective personal communication.’ Treat the client/customer like a human being and you will ensure repeat business or wonderful referrals.

Like the character Kathleen Kelly said, “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

Again, I have no problem with personal elements being employed by business. In some cases, the end can justify the means—in a perverse way. But if both parties end up being happy (the bottom line), that is a good thing.

What is unfortunate is when the reverse happens; when the elements of personal transaction become solely a business tactic, and the ‘business view’—the cost/benefit factor—becomes part of the personal element.

“I could apologize, but you wouldn’t believe me. If you did, it would only be temporary, and I would continue to apologize until I wasn’t sorry anymore.”

Projection? On a personal apology?

--Are there ‘studies’ somewhere to back this up? What are the statistics? Is this for a first-time apology, or for a second or third? Is this a first time thing or repeated offense? How much does the personality of the receiver affect the outcome?

Treating people with compassion, kindness and fairness is a wonderful thing in general. Yes, it can even help in business—especially if you mean it, without looking for long-term benefits.

Here is a “5-Step Apology Process” from the article:

                1. Say you are sorry.
    2. Clearly state what you did wrong.
                3. Acknowledge how the receiving party must be feeling.
                4. Express your sincere regret.
                5. Promise not to repeat the behavior.

Here is an example of how this might sound: “Bob, I am so sorry I abruptly cut you off at the director’s meeting. This was very rude on my part and I know it angered you. You have every right to be angry with me. I regret this. I assure you that this will not happen again.” Spoken from the heart, this type of apology can go a long way toward repairing a relationship that might otherwise be irretrievably broken.

(Of course, if considerate treatment of others is not a concern of yours, why are you even here?)

If you hurt or harmed another person, apologize. That is your responsibility. If they don’t take it, walk away. If they only take it temporarily, that can be dealt with, too. Either way, accepting an apology or not is part of their responsibility and not yours (projected or otherwise). Openly acknowledging you did another person wrong without apology is as personally hurtful as avoiding talk of it. And—technically speaking—an apology is not ‘used’ for anything. It is a personal act of taking ownership for your actions; any long-term ‘benefit’ should be considered a bonus and never the primary goal.

Then again, if you are not ever sorry, you have just wasted precious moments of your time reading this.

Everything is personal in some way. It “begins by being personal.” Let’s keep the personal in business, but keep the business out of what’s personal.
Treat all people fairly, with kindness and compassion. Your business will do better, yes…
But so will you.

(Sorry if I've offended anyone.)

(Not really.)