1: Ted was a “smart, personable, hard-working, deliver-the-numbers-and-live-the-values type, cherished by his bosses, admired by his colleagues, and loved by his direct reports,” Marshall Goldsmith writes in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.
There was, however, “one recurring flaw in this otherwise perfect picture: Ted was disastrous on follow-up with clients and colleagues,” Marshall writes.
Ted would only pay attention to people when he needed something from them or when there was business to be done. His relationships started strong but eventually drifted into conflict because he “alienated the people closest to him—not out of malice or arrogance but out of passive neglect. He failed to return their calls. He would never make the first move to check up on them to see how they were doing.”
As Ted’s executive coach, Marshall reached out to his colleagues and clients to gather feedback. The message was clear and consistent. To get to the next level, Ted would have “to learn how to show people he cared for them as human beings, that he was their friend with or without a deal at stake.”
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, Ted would have to apologize.
2: “Apologizing is my ‘magic move’,” Marshall writes. “I regard apologizing as the most magical, healing, restorative gesture human beings can make. It is the centerpiece of my work with executives who want to get better—because, without the apology, there is no recognition that mistakes have been made, there is no announcement to the world of the intention to change, and most importantly, there is no emotional contract between the people we care about and us.
“Saying you’re sorry to someone writes that contract in blood.”
For some people, apologizing and saying they are sorry is tough to do. But for those of us who can, it can be transformational. The healing process begins with an apology. It provides closure and lets us move forward.
Many things can trigger an apology, Marshall notes: “It could be the intense sorrow we feel for causing someone pain. Or the shame of neglecting someone who deserves our attention. Or the heartbreak of losing someone’s affection for something we’ve done. Sorrow, pain, shame, heartbreak. Whatever forces an apology out of people who normally cannot do it, I’m for it.”
3: Once we’re prepared to apologize, what is the best way to proceed?
“Here’s the instruction manual,” Marshall writes: We say, “I’m sorry.” Then, we add, “I’ll try to do better in the future.”
“Not absolutely necessary,” Marshall writes, “but prudent in my view because when we let go of the past, it’s nice to hint at a brighter future.”
That’s it. “Don’t explain it. Don’t complicate it. Don’t qualify it,” Marshall recommends. We do not want to risk saying something that dilutes our apology.
Reflection: Consider a difficult or challenging situation. How might an apology be a good step toward resolution?
Action: Take action.