Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Art of Apology

Humility is not a personal strength.  In fact, in my more honest moments, I acknowledge that one of the things I struggle with is pride.  As a result, God has given me several "growth opportunities" recently to improve upon my talent for humility (see, I can even pridefully brag about humility, I'm a disaster).  These opportunities generally come in the form of requiring me to apologize. 

I do apologize.  But my apologies can often be riddled with provisos and exceptions that they sound more like I'm defending a client that offering a true and unqualified apology.  I would like to apologize better.  I am working on it.  This week I was presented with another growth opportunity. 

I recently wrote about a colleague being less than kind and as a result I had to "sort of" apologize to a senior attorney who chewed me out.  I wasn't that interested in taking personal responsibility for any part I might have had in making the project less than successful.  So my apology was fairly defensive. 

This week I found myself with another opportunity to put a shine on my apologizing skills.  I met with someone who has been harboring some resentment because of a situation that cropped up last year.  Once again, I didn't believe I had any hand in causing the situation or his resentment, but it was festering and posing a problem for a professional relationship I have.  So I looked him in the eye and apologized.  I apologized for any negative impact the situation caused him or his job and apologized if I had failed to communicate or been less than gracious about my handling of the issue.  It helped. 

Taking personal responsibility helps, but you can't just do it "internally."  If you plan to either share some of the blame or mend a fence, you need to apologize.  And if you're anything like me, it is hard.  My pride automatically throws up a handful of defenses I could use - "but I didn't know," "you never told me," "it's not my responsibility," "this is how things are done," and of course, "I'M RIGHT!"  Who cares?  What if you are right? 

What are the implications if both sides just retain a defensive posture?  Do you really have no role or responsibility in the conflict?  The answer to the latter is almost always no.  The answer to the former is that it almost always gets worse. 

None of this means always blame yourself and become a doormat.  I'm far from a doormat.  I'm not being abused for my excessive apologizing I assure you.  This is just to say that if you, like me, struggle from pride that may hinder your ability to offer an unqualified apology maybe we should take time to substitute a little humility for that pride.  It's going to be a process for me.  And I'm going to screw it up from time to time.  But watch me, I'm growing. 

(But God - I've had plenty of learning opportunities this past week, would you mind giving me a few days off from more homework?)

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