Mastering the Art of Apology

For this article by Jo Ilfeld, Executive Leadership Coach on the art of apology the image shows a man sheepishly holding up a sign saying "I'm Sorry"

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you realized you’ve made a mistake and hurriedly rushed to apologize, only to sense something wasn’t quite right? You’re not alone.

Recently, I’ve been working on an article on what to do when you mess up and in the process, dived into the nuances of apologies and discovered something intriguing.

When it comes to mastering the art of apologizing, timing is everything. There’s even an academic perspective that suggests “better late then early.” 

When we realize we have made a mistake, we often rush in quickly to apologize.

However, this quick reaction can cut off the other person’s need to express themselves. What they really want is a chance to vent and let you know how what you did impacted them.

So before rushing to apologize, consider allowing a cooling-off period. This grants the other person space to gather their thoughts. Then, approach them empathetically, acknowledging your mistake and its potential impact. But crucially, don’t stop there.

Recently, I encountered this firsthand with my husband. Despite his swift apology, I found myself needing to articulate how his actions affected me. This experience reinforced the significance of listening to the other person’s perspective after acknowledging the misstep.

Next time you mess up, instead of rushing in to apologize, let that person know you had a misstep and you want to know how it impacted them. Actively listen, and then offer your heartfelt apology. It’s not just about saying sorry; it’s about understanding and addressing the repercussions of your actions.

Do you want to end a relationship that’s no longer working? Here’s how to end a relationship honorably.

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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