‘Sorry’ is a powerful word, but often an essential one Image Credit: Supplied

Rashid, marketing manager at a big IT components company, was asked to deliver a presentation to his senior board on the marketing plan for the next 12 months. Half way through his presentation, he realised he had forgotten to include a key graphic.

When Amil, the CEO, made a query to this effect Rashid apologised for the oversight. However, Amil lost his temper and decided to criticise and humiliate him in front of everyone, which left Rashid both hurt and embarrassed.

The following week, the relationship deteriorated to the extent that Rashid felt excluded from management meetings and policy decisions. Eventually he felt so devalued that he felt obliged to resign and join a competitor. Regretfully, this is a commonplace story that happens too often.

Amil could have maintained the relationship by calling a meeting the next day with Rashid to express regret over having humiliated Rashid in public. Instead, the company lost an experienced manager who had been with the organisation for many years, and which now had the expensive and time-consuming job of having to advertise for, then interview and hire a new manager with no knowledge of the company.

‘Sorry’ is a powerful word, but often an essential one. I am not talking about a cursory “I’m sorry”, but rather a genuine apology. But why is this so important?

First, an apology opens a dialogue between you and the other person. This gives one side the opportunity to admit to an error of judgement and the other person the space and time to communicate their own feelings, in response.

When you apologise, you acknowledge that you may have acted or spoken in a way that was unacceptable and that could have caused unnecessary damage to a relationship. A meeting helps you to rebuild the trust so that your relationship can be re-established without any permanent harm.

Another very important fact is that when you admit your mistake, you restore dignity to the person who has been hurt. An apology given with sincerity shows that you take responsibility for your actions and this will not only help your own self-respect and confidence, your reputation will be enhanced. Any fool can shout, but it takes strength of character to have the courage to acknowledge a mistake and to try to rectify it. We all make mistakes, the difference is what we do about them.

In the case study, Rashid left the company because he felt that his reputation and self-respect had been damaged beyond repair. At other times, not every individual will leave and the situation can become worse over time, causing further damage to team dynamics and productivity.

If you are seen as someone who makes mistakes but will never apologise for them, that can cause dissent within the team and members will start to feel insecure and, ultimately, be reluctant to work for you.

So why is it so hard to apologise? It takes courage to apologise and admit that you did something, or said something, wrong. You may think that people won’t respect you, whereas the opposite is true because you will invariably gain more respect when you do so. To admit to making a mistake is a sign of strength not weakness.

 Four steps to making a genuine apology: 

* Express regret. The two simple words, “I’m sorry” will go a long way. This will often be sufficient, provided they are said with sincerity.

* Admit your error and accept any consequences that go with it. Try to establish empathy with the other person and wonder how you might have felt in their shoes.

* Identify what you can do to put the mistake right and ensure that you implement whatever action is necessary. Do not forget that empty promises never help.

* Learn by what has happened and try not to let the same situation happen again. 

Finally, when you apologise, don’t try to shift the blame onto someone else or make excuses as that will just seem as if you are trying to abdicate responsibility. A genuine apology, in good time, is an honest communication that can make a big, and immediate, difference to how you are seen by others and your relationship with them.

Key points: 

* An apology shows strength, not weakness.

* We all make mistakes — it’s what we do about them.

* An apology in good time will have an immediate effect.

The author is a BBC Guest-Broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international Stress Management consultancy and her new book, ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ is available in all good bookshops.