Monday, July 19, 2010

I Owe You An Apology

I get a lot of practice with apologies.

I tell my wife I’m sorry all the time. I apologize to my kids. I probably owe several people in my tiny little sphere of influence an apology; if you’re one of them, leave a comment on this post.

Daniel Pink wants us to think about how we apologize. I agree with him 100 percent.

Pink writes in the Telegraph that the “professional” apology (“We regret any inconvenience this may have caused,”) or the “non-apology” (See Steve Jobs) is not only terrible on the corporate level, but is getting even worse as we slip into such apologies – even if Scott Adams Calls them the “High Road Maneuver” – into our everyday speech. (I have to agree with several of Adams' commenters, who say there's a fine line between taking the high road and being insolent; Jobs and many others cross that line and still want to claim the high road. They can't have their cake and eat it, too).

I won’t stand for it. I’m a sorry little sack of protoplasm and will continue to be a sorry little sack of protoplasm every time I screw up. I’m likely to continue screwing up not because I’m not learning lessons from past screw-ups, but because I’m prone to making mistakes. I'm not one who believes apologizing shows weakness.

In that, I’m in agreement with 37 Signals’ Jason Fried, whom pink quotes:
“Any inconvenience” is emotionally anaemic and lacks the specificity to make it meaningful. “We apologise” isn’t much better. It’s distancing almost to the point of dismissiveness. “When you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ you’re owning,” Fried explains. “When you say ‘I apologise,’ you’re renting.”

Professionalese is a renter’s language. It doesn’t expect to be around for very long and has no stake in the long-term prospects of the neighbourhood. It says, “mistakes were made” rather than “we messed up” and claims to “take responsibility” instead of acknowledging “it’s my fault.”
I catch myself doing it – saying “I apologize” to my wife rather than “I’m sorry.” There are lights years of difference between the two. The latter, to me, is more sincere, less sterile. More in line with this:

And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.

It’s all in the humility, something of which we’re in desperate need these days. A non-apology, or one couched in language meant to insulate the one who made the mistake from the ones that mistake impacts do not invite forgiveness or empathy.

As Pink writes:
The behavioural economist Dan Ariely has conducted research showing that when people are treated rudely, they’re more likely to behave vengefully – for instance, by not saying anything when they’re given too much change in a transaction. But when rudeness is followed by a clear and simple “I’m sorry”, the annoyance dissipates and people tend to behave as honourably as they do in ordinary circumstances.
That’s the kind of world I want to live in; where the golden rule means not “He who has the gold makes the rules,” but the meaning the rule was intended to have: “Treat others as you’d like to be treated.” If someone compels you to walk a mile, walk with him twain. That kind of thing. It doesn’t matter if there are people out there making the same mistakes as we are – their behavior does not control our own.

1 comment:

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