How to Make an Effective Apology (8.4)

Your promises are not just commitments to fulfill in the future; they are guarantees of integrity you must honor in the present.

Satisfaction happens later, integrity happens now. Satisfaction is conditional; it depends on factors you can't control. Integrity is unconditional; it depends on choices you do control.

Integrity is essential for the success of individuals and organizations. Without integrity, there is no coordination, no trust, no ethics. Yet most people focus on fulfillment. Integrity implies a sincere intention to fulfill your promises, but it means much more than that: Integrity requires that you keep your word even when you cannot deliver what you promised.

Integrity Means "No Surprises"

Imagine you made a promise with integrity (see my previous post), but something happens and you now believe that your commitment is at risk. How do you preserve your integrity?

You do it with an apology.

An integrity-preserving apology requires much more than a quick "Sorry." Expressing regret is a good start, but not nearly enough.

Reverse the situation and put yourself in the shoes of the creditor. If someone who made a promise to you realizes he will probably not deliver, what would he have to do to keep your trust?

I have asked this of thousands of professionals, and practically all of them replied along the following lines: "If my promisor thought that her commitment was at risk, I would like her to tell me right away. I would like her to come to me and,

1. Explain what changed and why it was unforeseen.

2. Inquire as to what problems this creates for me and what she could do to minimize them.

3. Offer a new commitment that preserves efficiency and takes care of me.

I then ask my clients if they have ever received an apology like this. "Never!" they usually complain. "The deadline comes and goes, I don't get what I was promised, and the other person doesn't show up. Worse yet, if I complain, he gets angry and blames me for not understanding that he had a problem--always caused by circumstances outside of his control!"

Righteous indignation feels good, but it blinds you to your own behavior. It is much easier to demand that others honor their word than to do it yourself. I then ask the same clients if they have ever given an apology like this. An embarrassing silence ensues.

In the following video I explain that to honor your word you must announce the breakdown immediately, explain what happened, accept accountability, inquire about the consequences and minimize the damage to the person to whom you made the promise.

Fred Kofman, Ph.D. in Economics, is Vice President at Linkedin. This post is part 8.4 of Linkedin's Conscious Business Program. You can find the introduction and structure of this program here. To stay connected and get updates join our LinkedIn Group: Conscious Business Friends.

You can Follow Fred Kofman on LinkedIn here.

Readers: Are there any apologies you need to make?