Productive Conflict: Apologize

Nothing shows humility, grace, and vulnerability like a sincere apology.

Note: I’m not talking about a non-apology or a rushed “I’m sorry.” I’m taking about real, sincere apologies that build trust, extinguish guilt, and provide healing.

Examples of non-apologies:

  • I’m sorry, but…
  • I’m sorry you took it that way.
  • Oh, yeah. Sorry about that.
  • My bad.
  • Mistakes were made…
  • Joe didn’t mean what he said. I’m sorry he hurt you. (Apologizing for someone else.)
  • I’m sorry. There, I said it. Happy now?
  • I’m sorry this happened.

My dear friend and fellow educator Matt Pries likes to share the following model, which is derived from the Quantum Learning school of thought:

Make it Right

A mnemonic to recall this AAMR model is “All About My Relationships.” And it works.

Teach this to others as an antidote to those empty “sorry” mutterings.
Use it yourself as an antidote to “do they really mean it?” questions.

When you use this model, it’s very difficult make non-apologies like those above. And, if there’s been a trust violation, the long-term rebuilding is a part of the process.

Example one: I’ve backed over your bicycle.

A: “Oh, dude, I ran over your bike. Totally careless on my part.”
A: “I’m so sorry.”
M: “I will buy you a new one.” [then, I buy you a new one.]
R: “I’ll be more careful backing out of the driveway from now on.” [then, be more careful backing out of the driveway.]

Example two: I lied to you about the time commitment needed for the committee I recruited you for. I told you it wouldn’t take much time (in order to get you to say yes), but it turns out that you spend 5 hours a month on it—way more than I said. You have called me on it.

A: “Yeah, it’s true. I lowballed the commitment. I just really wanted you on the committee because you’re awesome.”
A: “…that’s no justification for my lying to you, though. I’m sorry. And pass my apology on to your family too, because I know it affected them.”
M: “I’ll cover your duties, or find someone else to do it. You’re relieved, if you want to be; or keep serving on your own terms. Regardless, I’ll cover for you.”
R: “And when I recruit the next person, I won’t deceive them. I’m embarrassed. Thanks for helping me learn from this.” [then, always be up-front about the commitment in the future.]

This model works as something to use, and something to share with those in our care.

Apologizing may be more natural for those with the i style or S style than for those with the C style or D style.

This is the 2nd post in an 18-part series discussing positive conflict behaviors. Effective leaders encourage productive conflict and discourage unproductive conflict. Follow along as we explore the positive impact of these behaviors.

Part 1: Finding the Root of the Problem

  1. Ryan Schon
    | Reply

    Hi Alan, another great article. Here’s another about apologies that I really like – Merry Christmas!

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