21st Century Apologies

AFTER A BIT OF SHMOOSING FOLLOWING A BRIEF BATTLE OVER TERRITORY, THE POLAR BEAR THAT IS SEATED SEEMED NOT TO BE TO CONCERNED WITH THE APOLOGY FROM THE OTHER GUY AS HE BIT A CHUNK OF HAIR FROM HIS BUDDY'S FACE. SCIENTIFIC: POLAR BEAR/URSUS MARITIMUS POLAR BEARS IN BATTLE ONE BEAR BITING OTHERAn interesting exchange occurred on Twitter last week. PRCog tweeted: “Dear Millenials – ‘OMG’ does not replace ‘I’m sorry’.” Debbie Lyons-Blythe followed up with “’my bad’ not enuf either!”

As a Millennial myself, I couldn’t agree more. You see it daily at the gym, the office and just about everywhere else: people have stopped apologizing. I’m not sure when apologizing stopped being the right, not to mention polite and professional, thing to do. There is nothing wrong with admitting a mistake. It’s the best way to learn.

Your boss and co-workers are more likely to respect you, if you own up to your mistakes. When I’ve royally messed up, I’ve walked into my boss’s office, apologized and told him what steps have been taken to ensure the same mistake won’t happen again. Then we discussed it and moved on.

Whether the lack of taking responsibility is a product of helicopter parenting, over-equality in school and sports or just a group mentality, it needs to end the second you step into a professional environment. At your job everything is not fair and every person doesn’t get a prize for just showing up.

So let’s review:
Don’t:

  • Blame others for your mistakes. Even if it wasn’t entirely your fault, you were a contributing factor. One the same point, you’ll go further if you don’t throw people under the bus.
  • E-mail the apology. This is a face-to-face interaction only. If you’ve harmed more than one person with your mistake, a face-to-face conversation with each of them is the best way to ask for forgiveness.
  • Delay. The sooner you can apologize the better. This is especially preferred if you are the first one to realize your mistake.
  • Defend yourself. You screwed up. Accept it without excuses.
  • Make it awkward. When all is said and done, you have to let it go. Dwelling on it and being sheepish around your colleagues will not help the situation. Things won’t go right back to the way they were, but you still have a job to do and people to interact with.

Do:

  • Be sincere. Say it like you mean it, not like you are apologizing to your little sister just because mom made you.
  • Offer to make a correction. What will fix this problem now?
  • Come up with an action plan. This forethought may help your team and boss see your dedication to the position and resolve to truly avoid this problem in the future.

Bottom line: Millennial or not, don’t underestimate an apology.

A 2005 graduate of the University of Missouri’s Journalism School, Aurora spent several years covering education-related issues in Missouri, Texas and Washington, D.C., before returning to Columbia, Mo.  The active Alpha Chi Omega alumna recently accepted a new position as the Online Communications Coordinator for the Missouri State Teachers Association. In this new capacity, Aurora serves as the voice of their online community and works directly with members on developing best practices for utilizing social media. Outside of the office, Aurora enjoys running, having completed a marathon and two half-marathons. Last year, she ran more than 500 miles, a goal she aims to replicate in 2010. Her two biggest fans are her husband and cat, but only one of them cheers her on at all the big races.  She maintains her own blog at www.aurorameyer.com

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  • This is an excellent topic and you’ve written it so frankly and constructively. I, too, have noticed how manners – in business and in public – have become scarce. Though I do my best to be mindful of my manners, the Dos and Don’ts you provided are handy to keep on file – thank you.

  • Thanks for the comments, Rachel. I’m not perfect and I don’t always use good manners, but I try and I’m sad to say that’s more than some. I think because you are aware of the general lack of manners, you probably notice and appreciate it even more when people are polite and respectful. I’ve found when someone uses good manners, it leaves a better impression of the person.
    -Aurora

  • KDMisevich

    Great post Aurora! I think everyone can use a reminder on how to behave when a mistake has been made.

    You made an excellent point when you said “Even if it wasn’t entirely your fault, you were a contributing factor.” Often people forget that sentiment and shift blame completely on the other involved party. This is dangerous because it creates resentment and distrust – not to mention an automatic spot on someone's s-list.

    Congratulations on your new job!

  • Great piece, Aurora. I'm a Southern girl raised on “yes ma'am” and hand-written thank you notes, I'm appalled at how many people these days don't even utter a simple “thank you” or “please.” And the whole displacing responsibility thing is a really alarming trend. Even with my clients, I'm the first to admit a mistake or apologize. It's just the grown-up thing to do. Great tips!

  • Thanks! I promise to keep you posted on all the exciting details!

    Humility isn't an easy thing to learn and is even more difficult to put into practice, especially in a competitive environment. I agree once the trust is gone, it is extremely difficult to build again. I'm an advocate of erring on the side of caution more often than not.
    -Aurora

  • Laura,
    As I mentioned to Rachel, there is a charm in manners that leave a great impression. Southern charm isn't old fashioned; it is polite and can give you an advantage.
    I think, especially in PR, owning up to a mistake and then presenting a solution to your co-workers or clients shows that you are in control of the situation.
    -Aurora

  • Yes! You're so correct!

  • Loved this post, Aurora!
    Elton John sang “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” and to be honest, I think it is. I can't begin to tell you the amount of times an apology was necessary and one wasn't given. People are afraid of the consequences if they DO say sorry, I think.

    If I mess up, I'm the first to say I'm sorry and fix it. There's too much to risk if I don't fess up.

  • Thanks, Jason! I think of it like this, if I would want an apology for something, I probably should apologize if I do the same thing. I'll be the first to admit, apologizing isn't easy and I probably don't apologize every time I should.
    Writing this really made me think about what it means to apologize and how to be better at it, especially in a work environment.
    I agree about there being too much risk if you don’t apologize. A small infraction without an apology can easily turn into a much bigger problem.
    -Aurora

  • I couldn't agree more, Aurora. I think it is a true sign of professionalism and maturity to own up to your mistakes, apologize and make steps to correct the action. I hope others will read this post and learn from you excellent tips!

  • Karianne,
    Thank you for your comments.
    I hope to return to the days of generally politeness instead of general rudeness. It might take time, but each person who vows to be a little more thoughtful, considerate and professional get us closer to that goal.
    -Aurora

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  • Tinademarco

    I'm so glad there are others out there who think an apology is the proper thing to do rather than sweep something under the rug, as if it never happened.

    Unfortunately, all too often, I've found the business world to NOT want the admission of mistakes or wrong doing. That way, no one has to own up to anything! It will simply get worse and someone else, in another area of the company, will take the fall. We see it in government and politics on a daily basis. If people really do start claiming ownership of their behavior, perhaps it won't include things like oil spills in the gulf continuing to spill out…

  • I, like you, hope taking ownership becomes popular again. I'm not saying you should be a martyr, but the first step to correcting a mistake is admitting one was made. Thank you for your insight and comments.
    -Aurora

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