The Universal Gift of Apology


Yesterday I walked into a meeting prepared for a fight.  You know the feeling.  You’re convinced that you are right and the other person is wrong.  You know that the other person feels just as strongly that they are right.  Your whole body feels tense.

I came armed with data.  I had spent time rehearsing all of my arguments and made sure I had the data to back them up.  I also prepped everyone from my team who would be attending the meeting, including senior leadership so that they understood my point of view, agreed with my interpretation, and would support my arguments.

The meeting was called because of a pretty harshly worded e-mail I had received from my “opponent” in this fight.  Based on the e-mail, I knew that a face-to-face discussion was needed.  I could easily see things escalating if we continued via e-mail, so we agreed to meet and talk.  Still, I had such a visceral response to the e-mail that those emotions hadn’t completely dissipated prior to our meeting.  In fact, I think having time to brood over it only amplified those feelings.

This could have been a tense and uncomfortable meeting, but it wasn’t.  The reason is because of what my “opponent” did to start the meeting – she apologized.  She said that she realized that her e-mail came across as overly harsh and that wasn’t her intent.  She apologized for just dashing off a message without first thinking through how it might land on me.

This one simple act totally changed the tone of the whole discussion.  As a result, I was much more open to listening to and understanding her concerns.  We were no longer “opponents” but rather partners.  In the end, we agreed to a compromise that was a win-win for both of us.  I also realized that she was someone who would be a valuable resource if I run into similar situations in the future.

Afterwards, I had the opportunity to reflect on what had happened and how I could modify my approach in the future.

  • An apology can be a powerful gift that allows people to shift their mindset and perception of one another.
  • When apologizing she never said that she was wrong, but acknowledged the potential impact that her message could have on the recipient.
  • In working through complicated issues, a discussion is preferable to e-mail.
  • Remind myself that especially in those cases where I have a strong response that it’s important to “seek first to understand”.

At the end of the day, everything turned out well.  However, I recognize that result wasn’t due to anything I had done.  I went in ready to do battle.  It wasn’t my finest hour.  Like any situation where I realize that I would have been more effective if I had done something differently, I want to be sure I learn from this situation and apply what I have learned the next time I face a similar situation.

I will be sure to remember how best to use the gift of an apology.

Author: Joyce A Gustafson

Passionate about continuous improvement, "working out loud", and constantly learning. Reviving this blog after a long absence. Recently moved to Maine and loving it! NOTE: This is my personal blog and the thoughts and opinions are my own. This blog does NOT represent the view and opinions of my employer

2 thoughts on “The Universal Gift of Apology”

  1. It’s a nice post. You are lucky you had this experience and the mindset to apply reflective thinking on it. We could be on both positions or even in the position of the manager of one of the stakeholders. From my much longer experience direct fights rarely solve anything, sadly. I say sadly because it seems such an easy solution. Ever heard of Non-violent communication?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the comment Bruno. You’re very right, going in to any situation being prepared to fight, rarely solves anything. Sometimes though, emotions get the better of us. My goal in writing this was to help reinforce the lesson in my own mind, so I don’t have to keep learning it over and over again.


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