No one is perfect. We all make mistakes from time to time. It's just part of being human. While some mistakes are minor and don't affect anyone but ourselves, others may be major, and affect one or more people--including those who work for or with us, and our friends and loved ones. When that happens, we may also have to deal with hurt feelings, bruised egos, and fractured relationships.
When we make a mistake that affects others, or when we don't follow through on a promise we've made, it's important that we recognize we were wrong, and quickly apologize to those we've hurt.
In her book No One Understands You: And What to Do About It, social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson suggests that apologies are very powerful things. Says Halvorson, "Done right, they can resolve conflict, repair hurt feelings, foster forgiveness, and improve relationships." Not bad for something so simple and easy to do.
When it's time to apologize, Halvorson suggests the following five strategies for getting the apology right.
1. Don't justify
Remember: apologies aren't all about you--they're all about the people whose feelings you've hurt. This means not starting off your apology with words like, "I didn't realize..." or "I didn't mean to..." or "I was trying to..." As Halvorson says, "When you screw up, the victims of your screwup do not want to hear about you. So stop talking about yourself, and put the focus of your apology where it belongs: on them."
2. Imagine their perspective
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment, and think about how the things you said or did wrong would have made you feel if it were your boss or friend or loved one on the giving end. How would you feel, and what would you need from the other person to move forward past your own hurt feelings? Use the knowledge you gain from this exercise to create a roadmap for your own apology.
3. Acknowledge their feelings and values
When someone's feelings have been hurt, they want to know that you recognize the emotions that they're feeling, and that you are taking steps to mend whatever damage has been done. Take time to acknowledge and talk through the other person's feelings, and encourage them to speak freely and honestly.
4. Restore a sense of "us"
When you wrong someone in some way, you also damage the trust that you've taken so long to build. Trust can take months or years to build, but it can be lost in a second. Says Halvorson, "Remind the injured party of your shared history, your commonalities, your shared goals. Reassure him or her that you are on the same team, and have no intention of letting the team down again."
5. Know your audience
Your apology should be tailored to the audience that you're giving it to. An apology you make to your boss for missing a deadline is going to be quite different than the apology you make to a friend (or spouse) for forgetting his birthday. Make sure you consider the audience when you craft--and deliver--your apology.