power of apology02 Nov 2007
One thing I’ve learned over the last couple of years is the power of apology – in personal circumstances, but in the business world in particular, as well. Obviously an apology is the ultimate form of empathy. It conveys your commiseration with and understanding of someone’s position, and it can go a long way towards instantly shifting the tone of a conversation from confrontational to cooperative. So, it’s powerful in that sense, but it’s also powerful in a dangerous way. Because of this power, the tendency to leap to “I’m sorry” is very strong. But the problem is that the phrasing of “I’m sorry” carries an implication of guilt. You might be saying “I’m sorry” as in “I’m sorry that this is happening to you”, but what the other person hears is “I’m sorry that this is my fault”.
I’ve been in situations where I merely intended to express my condolences and found myself, via the inaccuracy of the english language, admitting culpability. Oops. It’s been an invaluable lesson for me to learn to express commiseration without accepting blame for a situation.