Does anyone else feel like there’s a lot of anger in the air these days? Or is that just me?
I’m sure you can sense the sarcasm there. With protests, debates, division, and an election year…there’s a lot of frustration and fighting happening in every relationship, whether it’s familial, professional, or virtual. One of my clients is the owner of an organization, and they’ve recently shared with me a difficulty they’re facing at work: they are the subject of some pretty harsh and, as they perceive it, unfair criticism. As the leader of the entire organization, they told me how they wanted to explain to their critics what they meant. They wanted to expand on their justifications, and show everyone that they had good reason to do what they did.
Now, for anyone in any position, that’s okay. It’s not bad to want to explain the whole picture. However, what he grew to realize was that the problems arise when that’s all you want to do. If you only want to explain and justify, without hearing, listening, acknowledging, and yes, apologizing for the pain you may have caused — well, without that, you won’t be building any bridges. You won’t be healing or connecting; at best, you’ll be bulldozing the others into silence. At worst, you’ll be inspiring more anger, frustration, and perhaps outright mutiny. Even if you’re ‘right,’ is that really worth it?
If you’re in a position of power, it’s your responsibility to listen and acknowledge missteps. It’s not your staff’s responsibility to ‘get over it,’ it’s on you to be open and humble enough to actually apologize. It’s on you to be the bigger person.
Apologizing and acknowledging harm doesn’t mean conceding all your leadership, rolling over, or giving up. It simply means growth, and in that it means connection. Can you imagine the effect of a sincere and humble apology from the right people in today’s climate? From political leaders? From police authorities? Can you imagine the healing that could instigate?
We wouldn’t expect anyone who apologized to be totally acquiescing their role or giving up. We would just see that they want to be better and that alone would make it hard to stay angry.
Too often leaders don’t want to be the one to apologize for fear of being seen as weak. But what we fail to realize is that a humble apology in pursuit of growth is the ultimate sign of strength.