Over the last few days, in the run up to Amber Rudd’s resignation, the issue of apologising has been under scrutiny. Likewise in my training room, it’s a topic for analysis and debate. How do we rate, for example “apologies for the inconvenience caused” versus “I’m really sorry that this is going to cause you a problem”?
What about tone of voice and the non verbals which accompany the words? Careful not to give yourself away with inconsistent signals, as Albert Mehrabian’s much misquoted ‘7, 38, 55’ rule of communication illustrates. You may be saying the right things but if your tone and non verbals suggest you’re not genuine, your audience will believe tone/body language/eye contact rather than the words.
I happen to believe that an ability to apologise is one of our most vital communication tools. Wars have started, marriages have failed, friendships have faltered and law suits have been pursued because someone didn’t have the strength and skill to say sorry. For that reason it’s one of the topics I cover in my workshops with school children. The aim – to get them into the habit of taking responsibility for their actions, explaining what happened and offering a remedy. We call this three part structure a ‘Dog Ate My Prep’. But it’s also about re-framing the act of apologising as a sign of strength and confidence rather than of weakness. The ‘sorry’ word (when genuinely expressed) diffuses others’ anger and empowers us.
A ten year old girl told me how she’d apologised to her teacher for failing to do her homework. She used the word ‘sorry’, explained the circumstances (big difference between an explanation and an excuse) and offered to do the work at break time. Having recounted the conversation to me and the other children, she then said: “And do you know what, I felt much more in control”.
From the mouths of babes, eh……………….