Two Words that Can Change the World

Robert Woods

Question: Elton John wrote a popular song about this practice several years ago.

Answer:Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word .

Question:The Fonze of the 70's hit TV series, "Happy Days" could not bring himself to say these words.

Answer: I was "wrrrrong".

The magazine,Civilization, recently dedicated significant attention to the topic of apologies. Deborah Tannen makes a profound point when she says,

Apologies are powerful. They resolve conflicts without violence, repair schisms between nations, allow governments to acknowledge the suffering of their citizens, and restore equilibrium to personal relationships. They are an effective way to restore trust and gain respect. They can be a sign of strength: proof that the apologizer has the self-confidence to admit a mistake.

But apologies are not just for larger than life political figures. A well meaning apology can indeed bridge gaps between co-workers and customers where problems have occurred. It is truly unfortunate that many are fearful of offering an apology because we live in a litigious society. The tragedy is that, on the one hand, we affirm that people should be responsible and own up to their mistakes while, on the other hand, some lawyers give the advice that admitting you are wrong could cost you a law suit.

Deborah Tannen also reflects on the practical business application of a well placed apology when she recounts the story of one company manager who considers apologies "magic bullets". Tanner goes on to say,

When he admitted to subordinates that he had made a mistake and then expressed remorse, they not only forgave him but even became more loyal.

In addition to this illustration, significant research data indicates that what most frustrates people in their work lives is encountering co-workers who refuse to admit fault when they clearly make a mistake.

When there are morale problems in an organization, more often than not it is rooted in the sense someone has been, or continues to be seriously wronged by something that has occurred. If things have taken place that should not have occurred, the first step in rebuilding morale and developing a process of reconciliation may be as simple as saying, "I'm sorry"

If the saying "to err is human, to forgive divine" is true, then we can see that offering an appropriate apology is somewhere in between humanity and divinity. Think about the importance of making needed apologies to the people in your life, and then making those apologies the best they can be to build those relationships into the best they can be.


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