OK, I’ll admit it. I have made mistakes in the past in both my professional and personal lives and I guarantee that I will make more mistakes in the future.
Though most people have a hard time owning up to their limitations, one can’t find a truer maxim than “Nobody’s perfect.” Because of the ego, however, far too many of us avoid facing up to this all-too-human characteristic. When a mistake is made on the job, we may tend to over-apologize for the slip-up (even though, according to a story on NPR, refusing to apologize delivers psychological benefits). It’s as if we feel morally bound to justify our “fall from grace.” So what we are really apologizing for is not so much a particular gaffe committed, but our failure to live up to some absurd “ideal”—an ideal that is, has always been and will always be fictional.
Since mistakes of one kind or another are inevitable, here’s my two cents on how to properly prepare acknowledgement whence they arise:
- Take notice of the “apologizing culture” where you work. Do your peers and supervisors apologize for their own mistakes, minor and/or major? If they do (though as I just explained, it should be “When they do…”), is their apology met with appreciation… or with disdain? How about their “stock value”; does it rise or does it fall?
- One approach is to publicly acknowledge and take responsibility for your errors…make efforts to correct them…but never actually utter the words, “I’m sorry”. In other words, don’t apologize. For example, let’s say that you accidentally send an outdated report to the company CEO (who’s known for having minimal patience at the best of times). Saying “I’m sorry for having sent the wrong report to the CEO” may alleviate some of your guilt or anxiety in the short term, but does it do anything to solve the problem? No. All it does is draw more attention to your mess-up. Instead, consider, “I accidentally sent an outdated report to the CEO. I’m going to email her the correct one immediately; then I’m going to walk a printed version over to the CEO’s office and explain what happened.”
- If not apologizing feels to you like it’s missing something (like an apology) and you know that, knowing you, you’re going to apologize anyway, then do it sincerely but refrain from apologizing for every little thing. If you continually say, “I’m sorry”—even if the things you’re apologizing for amount to minor missteps—you’re going to brand yourself the person who always makes mistakes (large or small). Do the small mistakes that you make (that we all make) from time to time really merit that label? Doubtful.