Every Yom Kippur members of the Jewish faith participate for 25 hours in the Day of Atonement – a ceremony in which we say sorry. It's certainly hard when we’re dealing with a REAL issue. On many occasions I’ve had to say I’m sorry – not only did I apologize but there are still many apologies left to say! Reflecting on this got me thinking about our workplace today. A practice that I see myself and my clients struggling to do is say sorry and apologize for past behaviors in a MEANINGFUL way. We always look back and find a good reason why we behaved in that way or said those things! And if the other party apologizes, then you'll apologize... and no one is a saint, right?! Not so fast.
BUT - we all see the destructive results of NOT saying sorry and we are very aware of what happens when those feelings linger. This not only hurts us on the personal level but impacts how we show up at work. When people at work feel disrespected, angry, humiliated, dismissed, and undermined they seem to take longer to reply to your email, block your idea in a meeting, and only do what's required of them - nothing that makes them go out of their way. And in many cases, we are not even aware of a colleague’s passive aggressive behavior.
Sorry means I own that I willingly 'hurt' another person and that I wasn't being my best as a human being. I am better than my behavior... but I didn't live up to the high standard in which I held myself to.
There are 3 things we can all do more of starting today:
Meaningful: Apologize for your pattern of behavior. Reflect on ALL the times you lost your temper and snapped at that person. Share with them that you recognize the negative impact your behavior had on them. And let them know that you want to be a better version of yourself in those situations - and really mean it!
Their turn: Ask the other party how your behavior made them feel. You’re going to show some vulnerability here. Ask them how they would have preferred you behave in those interactions. An example is when you state “when I have to comment on your ideas, how can I be direct without interrupting you/speaking over you/coming across as dismissive and patronizing?”. Then be quiet and listen to their feedback, and don’t interrupt them.
Actions Speak Louder than Words: What can I commit to do in a practical and meaningful way which will take this one step forward? Saying sorry without the effort of improving the situation is meaningless. At it’s worse it can come across as shirking responsibility. Saying “sorry” and not acting on it gives the party the impression that you’ll hurt them again. Reflecting on our behavior is critical for our growth. It’s not easy! It’s not possible to be perfect! But one step forward is better than a downward spiral. And as I like to state, that 2% growth comes from leaning into those uncomfortable feelings and doing what you know is right.
P.S. To those accepting an apology. You should try your best to accept it in good spirits and understand that this person may make mistakes or may not live up to your perfect standards. Don't hold a grudge and bring up their weakness at every single opportunity. This is not about character assassination. Always remember that there are things that YOU may fall short in and have 'hurt' others as a result of. Working through this will serve you much better than holding onto the position that you are perfect and don't have to meet the person halfway.
Enjoy the opportunity to forgive and be forgiven. Growth is in the process and we only learn and improve from our mistakes.