An Apology Can Transform a Work Relationship

January 22nd, 2020

Have you ever been asked to apologise for something that you don’t feel you should have to apologise for? I suspect this rings a bell for most of us, but what did you choose to do?

A few years ago I found myself in this situation at work and I was absolutely adamant I had done no wrong. I had acted in good faith, could have in no way anticipated the outcome that occurred yet I was having to apologise to an individual about the effect the result had on his area of work. I was livid, how could I possibly be asked to apologise for something that could not have been foreseen? I allowed the unfairness of the situation to tie my stomach in knots for days, yet after some persuasion, I apologised for my actions. For some time, the apparent unfairness stayed with me and I promised that I would never agree to apologise for something I felt was outside my control again.

I am no psychologist, just an obsessive observer, learner and sharer of my previous experience and within months I realised that this was one of the best things that I had ever been persuaded to do. What I had failed to see initially was that even though I could not have anticipated a detrimental outcome for someone else, that is indeed what had happened. Whilst I was being somewhat unfairly criticised for not having forewarned them about something I did not anticipate, that was not the point. When our actions inadvertently cause harm to others, one of the best things we can do is to simply acknowledge that they are hurt, upset, frustrated, annoyed or however they are feeling. However much we try to justify something is not our fault, our decisions or actions have still resulted in them feeling this way. From experience, I can see that it is the acknowledgement of those feelings that people are looking for probably more than the apology.

Had I not acknowledged that my actions had resulted in that detrimental effect on someone else, regardless of the fact I had been able to put in some corrective action thereafter, I suspect our relationship would have been significantly damaged. Instead, within months, I was able to see how that apology and most importantly the acknowledgement of their feelings at that time, was the key turning point in our relationship. The trust between us and respect for eachother grew and this individual became a very significant work ally. Someone I could rely on professionally and personally and he knew he had the same support from me.

[little tip: Apply this at home too!]

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