There are a lot of things in this world that I don’t understand, but here is one thing that I have failed to understand for as long as I’ve been alive.
I don’t understand people who can’t admit when they’re wrong.
Seriously, how hard is it to own up to making a mistake? Apparently, very hard for some people.
To some people, an apology is a sign of weakness. To some people, appearing vulnerable would be more painful than putting a hot iron on their faces. To some people, being right is worth fighting for until they finally reach the grave for good.
This is such a sad and pitiful way to live life.
Since a lot of my readers have reached out to me to share that they are currently dealing with people like this in their personal and professional lives (I am too, by the way), I want to do something about it.
If for some reason, this blog post was <ahem> gently recommended to you by a friend or colleague, and you’re actually reading it, I applaud you for having the awareness to realize that you might be guilty of this behavior.
More importantly, I will do my best to convince you that admitting when you’re wrong and apologizing the right way will make you appear stronger and more admired than you have ever been before.
Sound good? Let’s jump in.
Why You Should Admit When You’re Wrong
As I mentioned last week, imperfection is an unavoidable aspect of the human experience.
No matter how hard you try to avoid it, you will screw up, you will lose your temper and hurt someone’s feelings, you will forget an important date/anniversary, you will break something that doesn’t belong to you–these things, and many other unfortunate things, will happen to us and they will be our fault.
So, since we all will make mistakes, shouldn’t we develop the skill of handling these situations well when they happen?
Making excuses and casting blame in the hopes of “being right” will never earn you any respect from anyone. But do you know what will every single time?
Can you name a time where you walked away with less respect for someone who sincerely and directly apologized to you for a mistake? I know that I can’t. I will always have respect for people who fully own their mistakes and commit to doing better next time, and of course, actually do better, going forward.
(Side note: This probably deserves its own blog post–but don’t be the person who can’t learn from his/her mistakes, and keeps apologizing for making the same mistake over and over again.)
Admitting when you’re wrong requires vulnerability, and as most people know, vulnerability requires courage. That’s why so many people avoid it and sadly cling to the ego-fueled trophies of “saving face” and “being right” instead.
I think that part of the problem is that people don’t know how to apologize correctly, so I’m going to fix that right here in this blog post. Below is a simple four-step process for anyone to apologize in a way that will gain them respect and have a maximum positive impact.
1. Be the First One to Speak
If you have to wait for the offended party to ask you for an apology, you’ve already failed.
You know that you did something wrong, so what are you waiting for? Waiting to address the issue gives you the appearance that A) you are too socially clueless to realize that you made a mistake or B) you don’t care.
Both options don’t look good on you.
Even worse, if you think that being nicer than usual and acting like everything is fine can serve as an adequate substitution for a genuine apology, you would be wrong.
Stop compounding the problem by refusing to address it. Own your mistake, sincerely, directly, and ideally, quickly.
2. Ditch the Technology
Do you know what’s really weak?
Apologizing over an email or text message for a mistake that you made in person.
Obviously, if you can’t apologize in person due to distance or any other reason, then please apologize by any means necessary.
But if you hurt someone’s feelings in person, then you owe the person the courtesy and the respect to look him/her in the eyes and sincerely apologize.
Drop the lame excuses that you “express your feelings better in writing” or whatever other sorry justification you have for not apologizing in person.
While an electronic apology is far better than no apology, this is about fully owning your mistake. And that can’t happen if you don’t have the courage to be vulnerable and deal with the consequences of your actions in person.
3. Always Explain Why
Remember when you would get in a fight with your siblings, and your parents would tell you to apologize? If you’re anything like me, you would just mumble, “sorry” and then run off and play with your toys.
Do you remember what Mom would say next?
“Get over here and say it like you mean it!”
As always, Mom knows best. There is no replacement in the world for good ol’ fashioned sincerity. Here’s how to do it right.
Always explain why you’re sorry.
Unfortunately, this can go horribly wrong if your ego gets in the way of doing this correctly. For example this is not a good example of a sincere apology:
“I’m that sorry that you’re so sensitive and completely incapable of taking a joke.” (I’ve been on the wrong end of these types of apologies way too often in my life, and it’s not a good feeling.)
This is what fully owning it looks like:
“I’m sorry for making a joke about you not being able to fit into your jeans. I know that you’re working very hard on your weight and it was very insensitive for me to say that. That wasn’t cool and I’m really sorry.”
See the difference?
And in case you’re wondering, just because you sincerely apologized, it doesn’t mean that everything will magically be better in a nanosecond. If you hurt someone, it may take a while for that person to come around.
But I can promise that the process will be much quicker if you sincerely apologize.
4. Don’t Screw it up with an Excuse
You already know how I feel about excuses, and predictably, nothing screws up a good apology quicker than a lame excuse. Here’s a tip to remember whenever you are choosing to sincerely apologize:
Don’t use the word, “but.” Ever.
You know what I’m talking about, right? In case you don’t here’s an example of a perfect apology being completely derailed by the dreaded “B” word:
“I’m really sorry that I broke your fantasy football trophy, I know how much it meant to you to win it this season. But, if you didn’t always leave it on the edge of the counter, I wouldn’t have accidentally knocked it over.”
Based on that weak apology, who is really at fault here? You for knocking it over, or him for leaving it on the edge of the counter?
Sure, he shouldn’t have left it on the counter, but you were the one who broke it, right? And believe me, since his prized trophy is now in tiny pieces all over the floor, it’s clear that he has learned his lesson.
Most importantly, this isn’t about who’s right. It’s about fully apologizing and owning your part in the mistake.
No excuses allowed.
The Power of Being Wrong
The ability to sincerely apologize is a gift. Everyone in my life who I respect the most are the ones who completely admit their mistakes and own their shortcomings.
Be honest–when something goes wrong, do you deeply respect the person who is quick with an excuse, takes zero ownership and is incapable of apologizing?
Yeah, I don’t either.
There is so much power in admitting that you’re wrong. It makes you relatable, it shows that you have the courage and the self-esteem to be vulnerable, most of all, it makes you human.
Want to make the world a more positive place, immediately?
Next time you make a mistake, fully own it and sincerely apologize.
Or, if this blog post ended up on your smartphone or computer for some reason, step up and offer a sincere apology to the person who deserves it, today.
The real mistake would be to put it off for a moment longer.
Have you ever dealt with a person who is incapable of admitting when they’re wrong? Be honest–have you ever been that person yourself? Either way, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!