Successful People Apologize When They’re Wrong

Competence is one of the four keys to career and life success in my Common Sense Success System.  I also discuss it in some detail in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success; Your Success GPS; and 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success.  If you want to succeed you need to develop four basic, but important competencies: 1) creating positive personal impact; 2) becoming a consistently high performer; 3) dynamic communication skills; and 4) becoming interpersonally competent. 

There are four key competencies that will help you become a career and life success:

  • You have to be able to create positive personal impact.
  • You have to be become an outstanding performer.
  • You have to be a dynamic communicator – in conversation, writing and presentations.
  • You have to build strong, lasting mutually beneficial relationships with the important people in your life.

Apologies will help you create positive personal impact and build strong relationships.  Lydia Ramsey is a friend of mine.  She is the author of a great book called Manners That Sell.  Recently she released an article called “Eight Etiquette Tips for an Effective Business Apology.”  I thought this article was so good that I asked Lydia if she would allow me to post it here.  Being the gracious person she is, she agreed.  Read what follows and use it.  This is advice that could be the difference between career and life success and failure. 

Eight Etiquette Tips for an Effective Business Apology

In the past few weeks we have been inundated with stories about the outrageous behavior of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open, Kanye West at the VMA’s and Joe Wilson during a joint session of Congress. Just when we thought things were dying down, attention turned to their apologies, the manner, the style and the number of them. If anything, all three public figures were shining examples of how not to apologize.

There is an art to the apology. As my friend, Jerry Gitchel says, “I’ve found that a good apology can often strengthen a business relationship.” When done correctly, an apology can enhance your business and create customer loyalty; still it’s amazing how many people don’t know how or when to apologize

There are eight steps to a good apology. Serena, Kanye and Joe take note.

1.  Say, “I’m sorry.” In spite of what your lawyer may have told you, those should be the first words out of your mouth.

2. Be sincere. Your body language and tone of voice need to match your words. People believe what they see over what they hear. Look, sound and feel genuinely sorry.

3. React quickly. An apology that is several days old loses its credibility and effectiveness.

4. Drop the excuses. Take responsibility for whatever you said or did. You weaken your apology when you start piling on excuses like Serena, who in apology number two said that “In the heat of battle, I let my passion and emotion get the better of me and as a result handled the situation poorly.”  That was a lame attempt at an excuse and not a hint of “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong.”

5. Make amends. Do whatever you can do to set things right. I recently sent one of my products to a customer. The item did not arrive on the day I promised and I had an unhappy individual on my hands. To set things right, I apologized and offered to send a replacement by overnight delivery. There was a significant cost to me, but I won over a customer who will hopefully come back to me for additional products or services.

6. Don’t get defensive. Once you get your dander up, you are headed for trouble and will only make the situation worse. One of my favorite sayings is “Never argue with an idiot. Those watching may not be able to tell the difference.”

7. Listen without interrupting. When customers get upset, they need to vent. Often they require something to chew on and that may be you. Let them vent. You may learn something important from what they say.

8. Finally, don’t go overboard and over-apologize. Make your first apology your last. Say what you need to say and do what you need to do to make things right, then move on. You will only make things seem worse by apologizing over and over again.

People can come up with any number of reasons not to apologize, but there are just as many for saying “I’m sorry.” Number one on that list is because it is the right thing to do. Not only that, it is good for business.

Lydia has nailed it with this one.  I suggest bookmarking this post so you can find it easily the next time you need to apologize.  And, if you’re human, sooner or later you’ll need this common sense advice.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people are competent in four areas: creating positive personal impact, outstanding performance, dynamic communication and relationship building.  Knowing how to apologize is an important key to creating positive personal impact and building strong relationships.  My friend, Lydia Ramsey has developed an eight step system for an effective business apology.  I am particularly fond of number 4 – “Drop the excuses – Take responsibility for whatever you said or did.”  This is great advice.  Owning up to your mistakes and apologizing for them is the best way to create positive personal impact and to build and maintain solid relationships with the people in your life.

That’s my take on business apologies.  What’s yours?  Please take a minute to leave a comment sharing your thoughts with the rest of us.  As always, thanks for reading.


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  1. I have found that a small, thoughtfully given gift that accompanies an apology provides an opportunity to turn a negative situation into a long-term, positive gain.

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