Apologies should be pretty straightforward. You screwed up, you feel bad, you express your remorse. But we’re human, and humans are complicated. Many times, we apologise for the wrong reasons.
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As author and business strategist Joseph Grenny explains, “the best apology is a glimpse into your own accountability.” When you’re truly sorry for something, you take a sincere look into your own feelings and actions to express your remorse. The trouble is, a lot of us apologise just to absolve ourselves of guilt and make everything better.
Grenny explains how this contrasts with a genuine apology:
It affords others an intimate and sincere view of your internal moral conversation — how you respond to their feelings and how you judge your own actions. Its goal is not to “get” something from the other person. That decision is up to them. Some people forgive slowly and some readily. You can’t control that. All you can control is the speed with which you regain your own integrity.
Chances are, you’ve done this before – maybe with a spouse, a friend, or a coworker. Especially if you don’t particularly understand why someone is upset with your actions, it can be hard to catch that necessary “glimpse into your own accountability”. A simple way to combat this is to ask yourself why you’re apologising – do you truly empathise with the other person or are you apologising just to be forgiven?
Grenny has some additional insight that’s worth reading. Check out his article over at Harvard Business Review.