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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How to Apologize Right

By Jessica Stillman

The Takeaway: Humans are imperfect creatures and mistakes are inevitable, but in business how should you handle them? Your mother would probably find that an obvious question: if you messed up, than you should apologize. But Kador has another reason managers should own up to their missteps: “individuals who report that they tend to apologize make more money, and individuals who report that they are reluctant to apologize make less money.” Now that you’re convinced, how do you apologize the right way?

Kador offers five keys to effective apologies:

I think all significant apologies have five pieces, which I call The Five R’s. First is recognition. That means acknowledging the offense with real specificity.
Responsibility is the second R. When you accept responsibility for something, you claim moral agency for the offense, squarely and solely, without excuses.
The third R is remorse. What’s required is simply using the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” The use of these words is non-negotiable. Without using those specific words, you may as well not bother with the whole thing.
The fourth R is restitution. This is, to me, perhaps the most important of the steps because it’s the one that can demonstrate concrete action. You can’t talk your way out of a situation you acted your way into.
Finally, the fifth R is repetition. It’s something that a lot of folks leave out. It’s the promise not to repeat the behavior. To apologize for being late every time we meet, I need to say something like, “And I promise to be on time in the future.”
The interview goes into fascinating details about the nuances of an effective apology and argues against those who claim apologizing and offering restitution is just too costly, saying “apology is not cost-free, it’s just cheaper than the alternative.” Also, covered are common “apology busters” – basically ways to screw up apologizing for a screw up. Snappy and straight-talking, it’s well worth a read.

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