My 8-year-old son has a bad habit of getting super frustrated and yelling when I unflinchingly pull the plug on his video games. He always tells me he's sorry. But because he's done it so many times, he's in a pickle, because I never quite believe him.
While I'm highlighting my kid, the scenario is unfortunately a big problem for celebrities and entrepreneurs alike. You only have to turn on the news or read the headlines to hear of yet another person messing up and offering words of contrition. Words we reject.
Why do their apologies fail so miserably, and seem so hollow? In some cases, it's because what they've done reminds us of a similar offense someone else committed against us. In others, it's because it's not the first time they've made the mistake. There's also the fact that we see apologies given in such cookie-cutter ways on such a predictable schedule: accusation/reveal, apology, debate and/or shaming, drop topic. The routine makes everything cold. But in any instance, we see a pattern, and based on that pattern we expect the offender will hurt us again. Trust is lost and no matter what might come out of their mouth, we struggle to believe them.
How do you make someone see your apology as being really authentic and sincere? It's not complicated. You break the pattern. You change your behavior to condition others to expect a different outcome.
Of course, winning back trust isn't easy when there are a million temptations around us. That's why you need to set yourself up so it's harder to repeat the blunder. A few strategies are key:
Clarify your "why."
According to science, we stay motivated and happy in anticipation of reward. So if you have a clear concept of what your new behaviors will get you and why you want to change, you can focus on that reward to stay in the game.
Tell others what you need and what your goals are.
When others know where you want to go, they're in a better position to keep you on track and fight with you. And being definite about what will help you shows self-awareness and that you're serious about making a real plan for change.
3. Adjust policies, routines, or both.
The rationale here is simple. By changing the rules or how you go about your day, you remove yourself from temptation, making it harder to be in the same position you were when you made your mistake. You add accountability, as you can arrange your rules and routine for better transparency and checks and balances.
We all trip up now and then. But if you really want to lead, if you want to protect yourself, your loved ones, and what you're working for, you have to prove that when you come clean, you don't plan to get back in the mud. Ask for help if you must, but make your apology mean something.