Thursday, June 22, 2017
Early June I was honored to provide a webinar for Xcel Energy on delivering an effective apology. I will restrain myself and not go into the timeliness of this topic, yet you have to admit, we know too many people in politics, business, or at home who could do a much better job at apologizing.
Some people apologize easily and well, of course, others not so much. You may under or over-apologize or just go through the motions with all form but no substance or sincerity, making matters worse. A sincere and well-received ‘I am sorry for…’ and in which you speak the person’s language can help you learn from your interactions, repair the relationship, and restore credibility. So how to do it well? The five main ingredients of an apology, based on Gary Chapman’s book on the topic are:
1. Express sincere regret openly, so not for the person to read between the lines.
2. Accept full responsibility, without any type of blaming or excuses thrown in the mix.
3. Make restitution.
4. Genuinely repent and
5. Request forgiveness.
Keep in mind that the apology is about what you did or didn’t say or do yet it is also about the person’s apology needs and language. People show individual differences in what they consider a ‘decent apology’. For Cliff it may be crucial to hear that you understand how deeply you’ve hurt him while Angela wants you to accept full responsibility for what you did. If you speak a different apology-language, emphasize the ‘wrong thing’, the person may not be satisfied with your apology, despite your good intentions.
In addition to Chapman’s five languages of apology I suggest you consider my 5 C’s of an apology. Any apology needs to be courteous, concise, candid, caring, and clear and you want to avoid common pitfalls: blaming, justifications, ifs and buts, excuses, longwinded, repetitive, and reluctant.
Three more examples of ineffective apologies are the excessive apology, over-apologizing and the you-apology. An example of an excessive apology: “I’m so sorry! I feel so bad. I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do? I feel so bad about this… I am really, really sorry!” Apologizing is meant to rectify a wrong and rebuild a damaged relationship. With excessive apologies you do no such thing because you draw attention to your own feelings, rather than to what you’ve done to another person. When you over-apologize you say “I’m sorry” for things that do not merit an apology. This is often rooted in upbringing and parental values on politeness and may reflect a tendency towards conflict-aversion and pre-emptive peace keeping. Regardless of how well intentioned, over-apologizing undermines confidence and credibility, it dilutes the power of the phrase when you do need it and it may be received as a way to seek re-assurance. Lastly, “I’m sorry you did not understand me” does NOT qualify as a true apology because you want to stay in the first person and refrain from any kind of accusing.
As cognitive psychologist Albert Ellis once said: “The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president.” Ellis passed away in 1997 and could not have predicted the many laughs and pained looks his quote elicits these days.
Sunday, June 18, 2017
This Friday I had the honor and pleasure to return to one of the many conferences for lawyers in the Twin Cities. Grateful for being invited as the closing keynote speaker at the Health Law Institute, I wish to share a few practical suggestions from my talk “Advising clients in uncertain times.”
With the new administration in DC and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, much is in turmoil for hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, medical device companies, hospices, urgent care centers, and the many other health related organizations and their lawyers. There is more uncertainty, unpredictability, and complexity than ever it seems. Regardless of your field of expertise though, it may be equally descriptive of your industry. Below I share some tips on how to deal with uncertainty when advising clients.
1. Know your own responses to uncertainty and unpredictability:
a. How does it affect your own moods, behavior, patience etc.
b. How do you show your discomfort, in obvious and less obvious ways.
2. Understand possible client feelings of confusion, dependence, anxiety, stress, frustration, and anger as ‘normal’, self-preserving responses to an ‘abnormal’ situation.
3. Know that one of the brain’s main functions is prediction and that it dislikes uncertainty. Our brain registers uncertainty as some kind of pain and danger that needs to be avoided, either by denying or fighting it. This triggers a threat and alert response in the amygdalae in our limbic system. The more resources are used by the limbic system, the fewer are left for the prefrontal cortex to do it’s work, which includes logical thinking, analyzing, problem-solving and the like.
4. Focus even more on being trustworthy and dependable. This minimizes unnecessary uncertainty and stress and it increases the client's trust in you.
5. Assure that the content of your written and spoken communication is absolutely structured, consistent, logical, and repeated.
6. Own any mistakes you may make and amend them immediately to restore credibility. If you apologize while presenting the cure and displaying humble confidence, it does not make you look weak unless you keep making (the same) mistakes.
7. Anticipate individual variability in responses to uncertainty. Your client may stall necessary action, seek excessive reassurance, hear what they want to hear, and want to double check disproportionately where they wouldn’t in more certain times.
8. Find predictable elements of the situation, help focus on what matters most and on what can be controlled.
9. Help the client create different scenarios and contingencies.
10. Provide certainty and clarity of process.
11. Focus even more on “extreme trust”. For that I refer to Stephen Covey’s 13 trust building behaviors (book The Speed of Trust):
- Talk straight
- Demonstrate respect
- Create transparency
- Right wrongs
- Show loyalty
- Deliver results
- Get better
- Confront reality
- Clarify expectations
- Practice accountability
- Extend trust
- Keep commitment
- Listen first!
Lastly, if you have to think through complicated matter, remember to apply:
Metacognition: Think about your own thinking. Is it sound, diverse, critical
Reflection: Which cognitive biases and thinking errors may I be guilty of?
Consultation with contrarians. True teamwork depends on appreciating and utilizing real differences
Avoidance of emotional reasoning, personal (dis) likes and dislikes, and over- or under-simplification.