- 1 1. If It’s Not Your Fault
- 2 2. When You Can Offer A New Commitment
- 3 3. If You Can Say ‘Thank You’ Instead
- 4 4. When It Doesn’t Fix The Problem
- 5 5. If There Are Better Ways To Apologize
- 6 6. When You Don’t Know Exactly Why
- 7 7. If You Need Grace, Not Forgiveness
- 8 8. When You Truly Did Something Wrong
- 9 9. If Your Mistake Affected The Whole Company
- 10 10. If You Are Genuinely Not Sorry
- 11 11. When It Sounds Hollow
Based on our upbringing, the automatic response when we do something wrong is to apologize with the word “sorry.” Unfortunately, while this is instinctual to many of us, sometimes saying “sorry” isn’t always the right action.
Knowing when is an appropriate time to use that method of apology is a skill in itself. There are several situations where a different and sometimes unique approach is necessary. Occasionally, even saying nothing is a better tactic for keeping the peace. To help leaders understand when “sorry” is appropriate, 11 entrepreneurs from Forbes Coaches Council share several situations where the term should definitely not be used.
1. If It’s Not Your Fault
If it’s not your fault, don’t apologize. Instead, express the fact that you’re sorry somebody feels a certain way or sorry a situation has occurred. Demonstrate empathy without taking the blame. Then move to questions like, “How can we resolve this?” or “How can I help?” Aligning yourself with the person to solve the problem moves you from potential adversaries to collaborators. – Mark Savinson, Strategy to Revenue
2. When You Can Offer A New Commitment
Often, “sorry” is not enough. It leaves another party with a problem. I am in favor of feeling apologetic, but with an offer. Say, “Yes, I take full responsibility for that.” Next, explain what changed and why it was unanticipated. Separate excuses from facts and ask if there are ways you can minimize the problems you created. If there are not any, propose some. Offer a new commitment and stick to it. – Inga Bielińska, Inga Arianna Bielinska Coaching Consulting Mentoring
3. If You Can Say ‘Thank You’ Instead
You’re late for a meeting! Instead of saying, “I’m sorry,” try, “Thank you so much for your patience” or “Thank you for waiting while I dealt with that issue.” Instead of saying, “I’m sorry I missed that deadline,” you might try, “Thank you for letting me spend the extra time on this to get it right.” Turning “I’m sorry” into “Thank you” takes you from regret and shame to gratitude and grace. – Kimberly Roush, All-Star Executive CoachingForbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?
4. When It Doesn’t Fix The Problem
We all learn more from mistakes than from what’s going right. Failing early, analyzing, learning and improving is the most efficient and effective way to grow yourself and the company. To be more successful, we have to learn to make more mistakes in a playful way. Blaming yourself for it or asking for mercy is out of place as long as you don’t deliberately make mistakes to harm. – Michael Thiemann, Strategy-Lab™
5. If There Are Better Ways To Apologize
Making a mistake is not enough reason to say, “I am sorry.” Mistakes are not final unless you make them final. Saying, “I am sorry” signals finality. It is also a sign you do not plan to take steps to fix the situation or know how to prevent the same outcome in the future. Successful professionals apologize by clearly outlining what actions and steps they are taking to mitigate the mistake. – Tracy Levine, Advantage Talent, Inc.
6. When You Don’t Know Exactly Why
Sorry infers regret. When we claim it without sincerity, we lose credibility. If we have done something “wrong” (incorrectly), then we were simply mistaken, not sorry. If we have done something “wrong” (morally), then we have to ask ourselves why was it deemed wrong? What was my desired outcome? Would I do it again? If we still believe we’re wrong, let’s say sorry and explain why. – Corey Castillo, Truth & Spears
7. If You Need Grace, Not Forgiveness
Saying “I’m sorry” generally stems from regret. It’s important to understand the source of your regret to determine your response in a situation. If you’ve made a poor decision without consultation that impacts others, an apology is warranted. However, if you’ve done all you can and yielded negative results, perhaps grace should be sought. Compassion and unmerited favor are vital after a setback. – Janette Braverman, Leaders Leaving Legacies, LLC
8. When You Truly Did Something Wrong
When you’ve truly done something wrong and want to make amends, saying “I’m sorry” is meaningless. Instead, take responsibility for your mistake by owning it and saying, “It was wrong of me to…” and ask how you can make it right. – Kate Bagoy, Kate Bagoy International
9. If Your Mistake Affected The Whole Company
I definitely admit to and acknowledge mistakes. It’s one of the key elements of building a winning culture. I don’t know that I have used “I am sorry” except in personal relationships. I suppose if a mistake really screwed up the team members’ finances, goals or the whole company, an “I am sorry” would be warranted. – Gene Russell, Manex Consulting
10. If You Are Genuinely Not Sorry
Apologizing for something that you do not feel remorseful or apologetic for is the wrong thing to do. If someone views your behavior as wrong or inappropriate, but you don’t see it to be this way, rather than apologize and let it drop ask them how they would have done things differently and how they would have liked you to do things. – Rebecca Patterson, Rebecca Patterson
11. When It Sounds Hollow
There is a level to the word “sorry” that for some things simply doesn’t ring true. In those times I think of the word “contrition,” which is the state of feeling penitent. This, to me, implies that you intend to make up for the error in a humble, caring and thoughtful way. More than words, an act of repentance —even without the religious overtone—can go much further than the hollowness of a phrase. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.