I made a little boo-boo last week. I had a moment where I was wrong and in the follow-up, I had the opportunity to make a full apology… and I dropped the ball. I did eventually fix it and made it right—but the whole ordeal got a few of the rusty wheels to start turning in the old noggin. I had to write abut this.
First, a quick side note—I almost titled this post, “Admit it… You Were Wrong.” I was going to make it a general post but that seemed a little disingenuous. Apparently admitting you’re wrong isn’t an easy thing to do… :)
If an apology is warranted, there’s often the inclination to go straight to the half-arsed apology—“I’m sorry if I,” rather than “I’m sorry I did.”
On the New York City subway, whenever a train is stopped preventing you from getting to your destination on time, there’s nothing more annoying than hearing over the speaker system: “We’re sorry for any inconvenience.”
They should be sorry for the inconvenience or all inconveniences.
Take full responsibility if it's warranted.
In mid-April I was supposed to perform my show at a college in Tennessee. We had already reschedule once because of a calendar snafu. Just to be safe, I flew out to this school 36 hours in advance. Every single flight was delayed or canceled because of mechanical failure—to the point where I had to cancel my appearance at this school at the very last minute, something I’ve never had to do in the three years I’ve toured my show.
I was angry that the airline let me down. I felt awful that I let the school and the school’s event planner (a very enthusiastic, and now a very disappointed student) down.
First, I didn’t want her to think this was my fault but the airline’s and second, I wanted to see if we could reschedule for the fall of the next school year. I had to broach both of these subjects carefully.
So… I asked her for her mailing address. And I sent her a bouquet of flowers.
With those flowers I said two things, 1) “With this gesture, I want to show that I care about you, 2) “I’m sorry I picked a dumb airline, when all is said and done my absence is my fault.”
The blame game would get me nowhere here. I took responsibility and some extra care, and we eventually did reschedule my appearance at this Tennessee school.
Earlier in this week, while on a lunch break I was watching some South Park. It happened to be an episode that was parodying all of the national dialogue that occurred after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. On the show Stan asks his dad, “Is anyone going to help those people trapped on their roofs in Beaverton?” His dad replies in a serious deadpan, “That’s not important right now. The important thing right now is to figure out whose fault this is.”
Not a direct correlation to an apology, but rather further proof that the blame game gets you nowhere.
This idea of making a genuine and full-fledged apology is a difficult one, but instead of thinking of it as a chore, it could be seen as a tremendous opportunity to strengthen any kind of relationship—a political base, a friendship, spouse to spouse, business to client, or employer to employee.