The Power of a Sincere Apology


You are going to mess up. Big time.

Not because you’re stupid or thoughtless, and not because you don’t care. But you are guaranteed to screw things up, somehow, somewhere with somebody. It’s listed in the fine-print when you show up in your fine human form on earth. Don’t remember reading that? Something along the lines of “To err is human…”

And it’s OK. Our egos can’t handle the idea that we could be blamed for anything going awry, but the faster you accept your imperfections and own your mistakes, the better your life–and certainly, your business–will be. Is there anything you’re not fessing up to right now? Consider the following and see if there’s a wrong you can make right today:
  1. Every mistake is an opportunity to wow people. A friend recently ordered custom-made energy bars from a company called You Bar. They sent the package late, and sent an emailing saying so, apologizing profusely and asking what they could do to make it up. She was so impressed by their sincerity and willingness, and is far more likely to order from them again because they showed how much they care. If they had shrugged it off, or given a standard “sorry” response, not only would she not bother purchasing anything from them in the future, she’d likely be telling her friends about the sub-par experience she had.
  2. It feels good to make things right. If you know you’ve let a customer, partner or friend down, you feel lousy about it. Your ego may be telling you to stay in denial and defend yourself at all costs, but you always know in your heart when you’ve messed up and you carry the weight with you. Making a sincere apology and doing whatever you can to compensate for the damage done, will help you forgive yourself and move on.
  3. People respect those who own their mistakes. If people can count on you to admit when you’re wrong, apologize when you screw up, and do what it takes to make things right, you will command respect and always have people wanting to work with you, befriend you and pay for your products or services. They know you put other people before your pride, which puts them at ease and lets them know exactly what they can expect from you.

What’s the best way to apologize?

According to The Five Languages of Apology, a book written by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, each of us has a “language” we understand best when it comes to apologizing.  When you apologize in any other language than another person’s dominant apology style it may mean that they can’t hear or feel your sincerity even when the apology is completely genuine – it’s like you’re speaking different languages.  The key is to express your apology in ways that are interpreted by the receiver as most sincere. According to the authors, this translates into “better communication, increased understanding and, ultimately, improved relationships”.

The five languages that Chapman and Thomas identify are: 

  • Expressing Regret – “I am sorry.”
  • Accepting Responsibility – “I was wrong.”
  • Making Restitution – “What can I do to make it right?”
  • Genuinely Repenting – “I’ll try not to do that again.”
  • Requesting Forgiveness – “Will you please forgive me?”
If you don’t know the other person that well, or you’re apologizing to a group of people, try to use a combination of the above. Of course, none of these approaches really work if you’re not actually sorry. We all know when an apology is phony, and we know how lousy it feels when someone doesn’t genuinely acknowledge something they’ve done to offend, inconvenience or upset us. Resolve to be the kind of person who uses their mistakes as opportunities to learn, grow and give a little (or a lot) extra.
Have you ever received a truly great apology from a business, or someone you work with? Or have you severed relations with a business or person because they didn’t apologize?  Leave a comment and tell me about it!
4 Responses to The Power of a Sincere Apology
  1. Yanni
    August 4, 2011 | 8:44 am

    *This chapter/posting needs to go under, “Life Lessons”–perfect!*

    ['apologies' for a lengthy tale below...]

    Most recently, I took my Saturn Vue into Zimmer Wheaton in Kamloops for it’s regular 60,000KM and an oil change. I had notice a squeek in the engine–sounded like a bad belt.

    The technicians thought it was the tensioner, and since Saturn doesn’t exist anymore, a difficult part to find and a complex repair to complete. Thankfully, I’m still under warranty. After the repair, they noticed a new wrenching/grinding sound when the vehicle started. The problem seemed to be a stuck starter, which they replaced–warranty again; yet they are not sure the starter is the issue.

    All in all, it seems like standard fare for taking in a car for regular maint. and there are surprises, but no so.

    The whole situation lasted about 2.5 weeks, with my vehicle in and out of the shop, some stuff under warranty and some stuff not (while they experimented). Many days for shuttling me back/forth or loaning me a vehicle for a day or two.

    There wasn’t much in the way of feeling sorry, but they were quite apologetic when they couldn’t localise the problem(s) as they had promised. Mostly, it was to ensure I wouldn’t be driving a vehicle with an unknown or dangerous problem. They never gave up, and consulted with me on each step so I knew what they did, and placed me in the “driver’s seat” sort-to-speak with all decisions…even though it was mostly covered by warranty.

    In the end, the final repair is still a bit of an unknown so the work-order is left open until I take it in again. I was told only two items were covered by warranty (and those were parts)…the dozens of hours of labour and time and driving me around were absorbed by Zimmer Wheaton as part of “customer satisfaction.”

    They do feel sorry that they could not fix the second problem with absolute certainty, and have told me that when it happens again I don’t need to phone, just drive in and they will deal with it.

    A great way to admit a mistake and rectify it: make it an opportunity for appreciation.

    P.S. Each time I got drove off the lot, my vehicle was washed and vacuumed, whether they repaired something or not…each time! :)

  2. admin
    August 4, 2011 | 9:07 am

    Wow – that’s fantastic, Yanni! Great example of a business going above and beyond to make things right. It’s often said that people only remember and tell their friends when a business does something wrong, but I know in my experience (and it seems in yours as well) it’s very memorable when people, or companies go out of their way to make it up to you.

  3. marquita herald
    August 4, 2011 | 1:24 pm

    Lovely article Natalie. I remember (back in the days when I worked in an office – ugh) a boss telling me one time, “Marty, you hardly ever screw up, but when you do it’s guaranteed to be a BIG one.” As I recall he said that after I’d accidentally run an entire payroll off schedule. Anyway, I’ve always felt just being honest and up front the best approach – and fessing up asap because stewing over a mistake creates far more pain than the goof itself!
    marquita herald recently posted..50 Intentional Acts of KindnessMy Profile

    • admin
      August 4, 2011 | 1:46 pm

      Ouch, that hurts to hear, Marty! We’ve all been there – those BIG “screw-ups” can haunt us if we let them. You’re so right about stewing over mistakes creating more pain… so true, and so unnecessary!

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