This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
In my last column I talked about the art of the “work apology.”
Whether you’re apologizing to a customer or colleague, those magic words “I’m sorry” delivered with sincerity and a commitment to making things right can quickly turn a negative situation into a positive one.
But apologizing is not a one-way street.
Just as there’s a right way to make a business apology, there’s also a right way to accept one.
Just like in our personal lives, letting someone else know that you’re in the wrong and they’re in the right comes with it the fear of being perceived as weak or even incompetent. We are conditioned, especially at work, to show strength so it takes some courage to not only admit an error, but to seek to make amends for it.
Most of us at one time or another have had a restaurant mess up our order or had to wait in line at the airport gate after a flight has been canceled. And most people at some time in their work lives have been wronged by a colleague or boss.
And unfortunately, even in the most obvious situations where an apology is owed, it’s more common than not that we will not get one.
So, when a company or colleague does muster up the courage to make amends for a mistake, responding in a productive way is essential to turn a bad interaction into a win-win where everyone is happy—this is the goal.
At its core, just like in our personal lives, accepting an apology in a business setting comes down to three things: listening, empathizing, and letting go of any lingering resentments.
Listening, the first step is often easier said than done when emotion is involved. But in a business setting, listening equates to respecting even in the midst of conflict. Committing to hearing someone out will set the table for the next step.
Empathizing, or putting yourself in the apologizer’s shoes, can be a struggle. But just as it takes empathy to offer an apology it takes some empathy to accept one as well. It helps to remember that everyone makes mistakes, and that sometimes we are all at the mercy of circumstances out of our control.
And lastly, whether it’s the airline delaying your flight or a co-worker throwing you under the proverbial bus in front of your boss, holding a grudge isn’t good for anyone. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” So, if you truly are looking for a resolution of a business conflict, you must be willing to let go of any lingering resentments.
So, a successful apology is a two-way street. It takes work on both ends, which ironically can put two people in a conflict on the same side, both working towards a resolution. And in the end, it can make a relationship, whether it’s a customer or colleague, stronger. If you do find yourself lucky enough to receive that rare apology, muster up your empathy, and answer with a sincere “thanks” and move ahead.