Years ago, I made a mistake. I sent an email to a small group, and accidentally sent it to the world. The content was accurate, but the world didn’t need to know it. Embarrassed, mea culpa, apologised publicly to the individual, copied in the world who’d read it.
Unfortunately, sometimes instead of mea culpa, people who make that kind of error don’t apologise. They double down like a wronged spouse, who raises every fault the husband (usually) has committed, ever. Their mistake is entirely YOUR FAULT. Everything you ever did (even if you didn’t) caused the offender’s error.
The unfortunate part is that doing this destroys any good will. The party who was publicly stabbed will no longer go the extra mile to serve the offender. Which may have impact on any corporate, commercial or community interest within which that offender works. Where a simple apology, taken in good humour, could have healed all wounds, the doubling down defensiveness adds infection to the mix.
And the really funny part is that people committing this error are usually people who would consider themselves ‘senior leaders’. They may have that title, but do they read the leadership material that espouses humility, integrity, honesty? Evidently not. Years ago, I wanted to be taken to task in bad faith by a certain boss, because he had a copy of Stephen Covey’s ‘Principle Centred Leadership’ on his bookshelf and I would’ve picked the book, turned to the relevant page and shoved it in his face.
(Unfortunately, I never managed to offend that particular chap.)
This is not an attack on any individual. We all make mistakes, and we all have regrets. I have many. And I seem to amass them quite frequently despite all my best efforts to live according to my ‘code of conduct’.
And that leads me to the other dimension of character errors such as blaming the person you’ve offended. If you don’t apologise, how can you be forgiven? Don’t you want good relationships? Do you want to be thought of badly? Is there something wrong with being liked?
My code requires me to apologise when I’m wrong. I made a bad character error on holiday, recently – impatience – and even though it took me a couple of days, I walked up to the person I offended, offered her flowers, apologised twice despite her repeated ‘no needs’, and walked away with a tear in my eye, partly because of her forgiveness but also because of my humility – which sounds backwards but it is really emotionally satisfying when you act as per your personal code of conduct when the potential consequences could be severe – she might have called security, after all!!
So next time you make a complete noodle of yourself, acknowledge your error, apologise (truly, not just say the words) and take whatever comes.
It is soul-affirming.
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