BUSINESS MATTERS BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - February 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to apologize profusely? I have, just very recently.

The office booked me for an engagement for a conference, I began meeting the client for their requirements. And then, the office began entertaining another client without being aware that the client is a direct competitor of the other client I have been meeting. How weird would it be to have me be the main speaker for both conferences which are direct competitors? Two answers: weird and unacceptable!

In my many years of client engagements, I have long gone beyond the childish and immature way of rationalizing that I am not “exclusive,” that we have not signed any terms of an agreement that would inhibit me from doing work with their competitors. Those things are beyond me, and they destroy trust and relationships. I have also learned that when a difficult and stressful situation arises, the “mental fight or flight syndrome” begins to operate. The temptation to rationalize is there, but the basic question one must ask is: “Does this make things right?”

So, I got the number of the primary person the office has been communicating with; called her and profusely apologized. As a leader, I knew I had to take the blame and absorb the pain. The person I interacted with is such a gentle and kind person, she told me she understood the situation. She is a true professional in every way; she appreciated my telling her the predicament.

There was such a sigh of relief from me as something like 20 “I am so sorry, it was my fault…” must have been delivered in a record seven-minute conversation. The conversation ended with my offering a list of recommended speakers who could replace me to speak at their conference.

And this brings me to share my thoughts about apologies. Apologizing is never easy, but there may come a time and a situation wherein apologies are needed. Yet, there are different types of apologies, some may be hard but honest and effective, while others may be ineffective. So I did a little research and some soul searching as well.

Andy Molinsky who writes for the Harvard Business Review says there are four types of ineffective apologies. As I researched into this, I realized there are just so many things I need to improve in this area:

1. The empty apology

“I’m sorry. I said I’m sorry.” The empty apology is all form, but no substance. It’s what you say to someone when you know you need to apologize, but are so annoyed or frustrated that you can’t muster even a fraction of real feeling to put behind it. So you go through the motions, literally saying the words, but not meaning it, and that ends up being pretty clear to the person receiving the message.

2. The excessive apology

“I’m so sorry! I feel so bad! I apologize! Is there anything I can do? In theory, apologizing is meant to rectify a wrong and rebuild a damaged relationship. But with excessive apologies, this tactic instead has the perverse effect of drawing the attention to your feelings, rather than to what you’ve done to another person.

3. The incomplete apology

“I’m sorry that this happened.” Sometimes your apology is edging toward effective and appropriate, but it just doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Molinsky is right. There is no ownership and the taking of responsibility for what happened. It feels like the situation just arrived and is not the fault of anyone.

4. The denial

“This simply wasn’t my fault.”

Molinsky says: “Finally, sometimes, your ego gets the best of you and you just don’t apologize at all. Perhaps you’re so frustrated or angry that instead of apologizing, you defend, deny, or self-protect. You grit your teeth, dig into your worldview, and deny culpability. Because of how hard it is to admit guilt, for some of us, this is as far as we’ll ever get. But as much as it might feel secure in the moment, denial does little to repair a fractured relationship and, if anything, likely makes things worse.”

Here are my thoughts. Apologizing entails a lot of emotional dynamics, and if we are not stable at the moment, then we are liable to make mistakes and exacerbate the situation. Admitting fault is an act of humility, and the enemy of this process is allowing the ego to prevent one from doing it. There are times when we need to swallow our pride, and this is a time to do that. As far as I know, no one has ever choked to death by swallowing his or her pride, but many leaders have choked their credibility to death by denying responsibility for the mistake or the stupidity they have done.

In a religious setting, I have noticed that many leaders tend to persuade members to forgive the sins committed against them. Some even say: “We are all sinners.” It sounds good, but is incomplete and erroneous. While it is incumbent upon the wronged person to forgive in obedience to God’s command, it is the responsibility of the leaders to confront the guilty party and persuade them to make things right. This is rarely done because they do not want to offend or endanger relationships or lose membership, but would tolerate the wrong and require the aggrieved party to suffer the loss and still to offer forgiveness as it fosters repetition of the misdoing and does not help improve the offending party.

An apology has three major parts:

1. I am sorry.

2. It is my fault.

3. What can I do to make it right?

Most people do forget the third part. This simply means they are just after alleviating their guilt feelings, but they never intended to rectify the situation. And so, saying “I am sorry” is not as easy as it seems.

Just some more thoughts. Never mess up an apology with an excuse, “I am sorry…” and then “but…” That’s apparently an excuse. And lastly, the best apology is changed behavior. Nothing beats the sincerity of this one.

(Connect with Francis Kong on www.facebook.com/franciskong2 or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. over 98.7 dzFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch,’ the classical music station.)

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