One of life’s essential leadership skills is the art of the apology. Part of being human is that we all make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and misread others. We hurt people sometimes knowingly and sometimes not.
Some people have a difficult time saying, “I am sorry” while others are able to say it freely.
But is sorry enough?
- Ever hear the words “I am sorry” but it didn’t do it for you?
- Have you ever apologized to someone only to find that it almost fell flat?
- What if there was a specific language of apology that changed everything?
Gary Chapman is the author of the 5 Love Languages® series and director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants. Jennifer Thomas is an author, speaker, and psychologist. Their new book When Sorry Isn’t Enough taught me why “I am sorry” is often not good enough. I recently had the opportunity to connect with Dr. Thomas and talk about the art of the apology, relationships, forgiveness and trust.
“Forgiveness holds the power to give renewed life to the relationship.” –Chapman / Thomas
Sorry Isn’t Always Enough
Why did you decide to research and study the apology?
Several years ago, I made a mistake that led to an argument with my husband. Ironically, this incident happened the evening before we were to teach about communication and forgiveness to a pre-marital class at our church. As he and I worked through our own argument, I offered an apology to him that failed to hit the mark. I was thinking to myself, “This is not good. We are barely speaking and yet we are supposed to teach together tomorrow.”
Normally, I might have been miffed by his response, but this time my curiosity took over and so I asked him what he would like to hear in my apology. While I had been saying, “I’m sorry,” he needed to hear me say, “I was wrong.” I had made a mistake, and I knew I was in the wrong, so I went ahead and said it to my husband. I was amazed by how quickly this apology worked. My husband felt better, and the emotional tension between the two of us slipped away.
I made a mental note to include my husband’s favorite words in future apologies I would give to him. I wondered if our experience might help other people who are in the “doghouse” and don’t know how to get out of there.
The Language of Apology
How did you connect your ideas with Dr. Chapman’s love languages?
I had met Gary Chapman locally through my work as a psychologist in private practice in North Carolina. I was curious about his thoughts on apologies. I thought to myself, “Just as you should show love in a language that really speaks to others, you should also speak apologies that contain the words they are waiting to hear.” Six months later, I made an appointment to talk over these ideas with him. Dr. Chapman was very encouraging, and we ended up writing a book together.
“Genuine apology opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.” –Chapman / Thomas
If you are close to someone, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to apologize to them. How can you be prepared to speak their apology language?
Here are a couple of conversation starters that will help you be prepared when the need to apologize arises. Ask the people who are closest to you:
- When you hear a great apology, what is included?
- When you hear a lame apology, what is missing?
“Trust is that gut-level confidence that you will do what you say you will do.” –Chapman / Thomas
Why I Am Sorry is Hard to Say
When I pick up one of Jon Gordon’s books, I have high expectations. I expect to be entertained, moved, and motivated to think differently and take action. That’s not an easy accomplishment for any book.
“Your optimism today will determine your level of success tomorrow.” –Jon Gordon
His latest book, The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All, exceeded my already high expectations. Jon once again narrates a story in such a way that it:
- Reminds me of timeless principles
- Zeroes in on something I need to work on
- Inspires me to become a better leader
I recently had the opportunity to ask Jon a few questions about his work.
“Negative thoughts are the nails that build a prison of failure.” –Jon Gordon
The 3 Greatest Success Strategies
Jon,The Carpenter’s subtitle is A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All. Let’s talk about a few of these strategies.
I go into more detail in the book of why they are so powerful, but after studying the most successful people and organizations, I found they truly loved the work they did, and they did everything with love instead of fear. The love they had for their product, people and passion was greater than their fear of failing. They loved their work so much that they overcome their challenges to build something great. They loved their people, so they invested in them and helped them achieve great results. They also cared about everyone and everything. They put in a little more time with a little more energy with a little more effort with a little more focus, and this produced big results. They also served and sacrificed.
Only through service and sacrifice can you become great. When you serve others, you become great in their eyes. We know when someone is out for themselves and when they are here to serve others. You can’t be a great leader if all you are serving is yourself.
“Only through service and sacrifice can you become great.” –Jon Gordon
The Importance of Rest
You talk about the importance of rest. Most of us are so busy achieving, setting goals, and driving that we have learned to smile and nod in response to hearing “get some more rest.” My subconscious often responds with, “I will rest when I’m dead.” Why is rest so important? What made you decide to start with it as a success strategy?
I’ve noticed that the enemies of great leadership, teamwork, relationships and customer service are busyness and stress. Our lives have become so crazy that we are continually activating the reptilian part of our brain and the fight-flight response. So without knowing it, we are living and working from a place of fear where we are just trying to survive instead of thrive.
When we rest and recharge, we can think more clearly and live and work more powerfully. For example, instead of running people over because you are so busy, you can take time to build relationships with your team and customers and create more success in the long term. Instead of just trying to get through the day, you can live and work more intentionally thinking about who needs your time and energy to develop and grow. Instead of rushing through conversations with customers, you can take more time to listen and solve their problems. Every great athlete must rest and recharge and so must we to perform at our highest level.
“Anyone who attempts to build great things will face challenges.” –Jon Gordon
How Gratitude and Love Make The Difference
This time of year is full of graduation ceremonies, resume writing and job searches. It seems everyone is looking for good advice for those just starting a new career.
I recently asked Robert Dilenschneider for his advice for those just starting a professional career. Robert is the founder and Chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations and communications consulting firm headquartered in New York City. He is the author of many books, including the best-selling Power and Influence and the newly-released The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life.
Find the Right Culture
Most job seekers think, “I just want to get a job anywhere” but you point out that finding the right cultural fit is important. Why is it important to know the culture of the organization you are potentially joining?
The cultural environment of a workplace can be critically important. If the core beliefs, value systems, and behavior patterns of many of the people one works alongside of differ perceptibly from yours, you will never feel at home, be able to perform at your highest level, and move upward in the organization. That is just a realistic fact of workplace life. Taking a job “anywhere” can upend one’s career track significantly.
Figuring out a firm’s culture from the outside may not be easy. Cultural climate and identity have to be experienced directly. But asking the right questions of a future employer, or of anyone you may know now working at a particular company, could be very helpful.
Let’s talk about the boss. You say, “Every day when you go into work, you want to determine — quickly — where the match is between your bosses’ goals, strengths, and weaknesses and yours.” What is a “match” and how do you find it? How do you create a good relationship and the right fit?
Again, verbal exchanges with your boss or manager are essential. But colleagues, who’ve been working at a specific job longer than you, can probably be a font of valuable information about the person or persons one reports to — their likes and dislikes and, most importantly, their on-the-job objectives.
Work the Grapevine
Working the grapevine is not something that most of us learn in school. Why is this so important?
In any given day we receive thousands of messages. Our inboxes explode with email. Our social media accounts are never-ending streams of new information and updates from friends all over the world.
Staying relevant in the midst of all of it is an ongoing challenge. Breaking through the noise and standing out whether personally or professionally is a constant challenge.
“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” General Eric Shinseki
Andrea Coville is the CEO of global public relations agency Brodeur Partners. Paul B. Brown is a best-selling author and contributor to The New York Times. Together they have written an excellent book called Relevance: The Power to Change Minds and Behavior and Stay Ahead of the Competition.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about the concept of relevance.
What do you mean by relevance and why is it so important?
Let us start with why it is so important. Worldwide, organizations spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually to get people to buy a product, embrace a brand, follow a candidate, or join a cause. And yet we can all agree that these marketing campaigns, ads, public relations initiatives, communication programs, and social media and change efforts are—to be kind—often less effective than they could be.
Relevance is a guiding principle to ensure that all your marketing and communications efforts make a sustained impact.
Okay, so what do we mean by relevance? We mean your offering is practical and especially is socially applicable.
We have found that most people misread the definition, putting almost all their emphasis on the practical. That’s understandable. It is certainly true that what you are offering must solve a customer need and do it well, but you need to do more. And that is where the emotional part of relevance comes in. If your product/service/idea resonates with a customer, if it means something to him in addition to being utilitarian, then the relationship will be deeper, longer lasting, and more profitable.
Let’s flip to the counter. Irrelevance. When you think about becoming irrelevant, it paints a whole different picture. Would you share an example of a company becoming irrelevant? What can be done about it?
Unfortunately, it is easy to come up with examples of companies that became irrelevant. Think of a technology company that had THE hot product five years ago and now is a distant also-ran. Or think of entire industries—the makers of payphones and print encyclopedias spring to mind—that are no longer relevant.