As a young man starting in ministry and working a secular job at the same time, I made a mistake in my work and said, “Sorry boss, that was my bad. It won’t happen again.” To my surprise he responded, “Don’t apologize. In business, you’re viewed as weak when you admit you’re wrong. Just move on and correct your mistakes, but don’t apologize.”
Wow! I was pretty surprised. This business owner was a Christian, yet he told me that I shouldn’t apologize when wrong. I have since learned that it is a common philosophy in the cut-throat world of business to never apologize, but instead to shirk responsibility for blame. I knew it wasn’t a correct way to think and wasn’t about to adopt the philosophy. Years later, I became close friends with a very successful business owner and was struck with how quick he was to take responsibility for himself and apologize whenever needed. So which is the better way to go?
A few years ago I came across an interesting book by John Kador on the subject, Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust. In his book Kador says, “Executives who are willing to say, ‘I’m sorry’ earn more than executives who would never apologize.” And, “The stock prices of companies with CEOs who accept accountability are higher than those of companies run by CEOs who don’t.” He went on to say that people in business who apologize appropriately last longer in their companies, and are more quickly hired when in the hunt, because they have longer lasting trust relationships with peers in their field.
That all makes sense to me. I have more respect for those who take responsibility for their words and actions and are willing to humble themselves and admit it when they are wrong. I also trust those who are willing to offer a genuine apology.
But I’m not so interested in what makes sense in business. I’ve seen too many important relationships splintered because of the pride and stubbornness that causes us to refuse to apologize. I’m talking about broken marriages, injured parent-child relationships and fractured churches. But what matters most is that the Bible tells us we are to be quick to apologize. In last week’s blog, I pointed out what Jesus had to say about leaving the gift at the altar and going to the offended brother to make things right. James said this, “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16).
So when you are wrong, it’s important to admit it. Let me give you a couple of helps in how to apologize.
- Be honest. Don’t make false confessions to gloss over a conflict and thereby make for short-term peace. If you did something wrong, admit it, but don’t make up an apology. That’s hypocrisy.
- Be sincere. Never use words like, “If I offended you….” When apologizing, using the word “if” is an automatic eye roller. Every one knows you’re still shirking responsibility. Again, if you did something wrong, say so. “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”
- Watch your tone. If you apologize with an attitude, again, it’s obvious to those who hear you that you are not sincere. Get rid of the sarcasm, humble yourself, and let your humility come through.
- Take full responsibility. It may be that the person you offended is equally wrong. But that is not your responsibility. By using the word “but” (as many will do– “I shouldn’t have ______ BUT I did because you______”), you are in a sense redirecting the blame to the person you are supposedly apologizing to. Just admit to what you did wrong, and apologize.
- Be committed to change, and say so. It helps to talk a little about what you have learned or what you would do next time. Then, take the necessary steps to make those changes.
- Finally, let it go. There are few things more annoying than hearing a person apologize over and over for the same thing. Whether or not they forgive you is up to them. If you’ve taken full responsibility for your actions, let it go and move on.
You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to sin and offend other people. We all do. But when we do, nothing heals, mends fences and builds bridges like a heartfelt apology and expression of love and concern for the person offended. Don’t let pride get in the way. Just say you’re sorry!