Opinion | The Real Power of an Apology

By: | June 11, 2019

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

As Canadians, we are known to apologize a lot.

I tested this stereotype recently and discovered that there may be something to it. Someone bumped into me at the grocery store, we both said we were sorry. I couldn’t quite hear my friend, to prompt her to repeat I said, “I’m sorry?” Someone walking down the street sneezed, they apologized to the wind as no one was within ear shot.

Is saying “sorry” just a simple act of politeness and humility? Is it seen as just cute and cuddly? Small and cowering? Weak? At first thought, many feel that.

But my simple study did lead me to think of the large void we face nowadays when it comes to hearing genuine apologies from our nations’ leaders when they are needed.

Almost daily, we witness leaders hiding their weaknesses, lies and wrongdoings. They may have been schooled or choose to never apologize. To them, they may see it as a sign of weakness.

But when we truly apologize, we place honesty and honor above our own comfort or self-preservation. That is not an act of someone who is weak. It is inspirational act. It is brave. It shows deep strength.

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A meaningful apology is a ritual amongst humans where we show empathy and respect for each other. A real apology has the power to restore relations, disarm anger and call a time-out on further misunderstandings.

Great leaders must accept that the buck truly stops with them. We rely on true leaders to make hard decisions, but we also want them to take responsibility for their outcomes. A great leader should always have our back. And when they err, an apology reminds you that they too are only human.

Taking responsibility for a wrongful act with an apology is such a powerful tool for leaders. It builds legitimacy and healthy cultures in organizations, open, innovative and loyal. So why do so many avoid it?

Is maybe the risk management community somewhat culpable in propagating and deepening this “no apology” void?

As risk professionals, do we coach an apology as an admission of wrongdoing, or as a means to repair damage? Do we fail to see apologies as a dispute resolution mechanism over just legal mediations?

Should we not put our skepticism aside and let us encourage apologies as part of a claim process? Let us allow the healing to begin and start damage repair from this space. A space of civility. A human space.

And let us not worry. The law is on our side. The Apology Law.

The law defines an “apology” as “a means an expression of sympathy or regret, a statement that a person is sorry or any other words or actions indicating contrition or commiseration, whether or not the words or actions admit fault or liability or imply an admission of fault or liability in connection with the matter to which the words or actions relate.”

Versions of this legislation exist throughout Canada and in the majority of states in the U.S. The law allows the expression of sorrow and or regret without worrying that the remarks can later be used against you in a civil court.

So how about it, dear leaders? Let us consistently take responsibility for wrongdoings, regret how they affected others and offer restitution. “Apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future.” &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]