It’s been said, that the hardest words in the English language are I love you and I’m sorry.

Last week a colleague no-showed for a scheduled conference call. It wasn’t really that big of a deal, because I was at my desk, and had other things to work on (you know, like the Spin Sucks Pro launch), but I did have errands to run and I was waiting for our call so that I could go out and do them. Nothing. So I called. And then I texted.

Three and a half hours later, I received a text: “Sorry I stood you up, I got called into an “I need you now” meeting and we just got done.”

Really? Technically speaking, that was an apology, but in my opinion, a lame one and I felt my heart rate escalate just a little bit. What originally was something I was willing to let go, suddenly became a slightly bigger deal. Now I’ve been made to feel like my time has no value, and that I’m a little less important.

Something that could have been quickly diffused with a real apology or even avoided with some easy communication at the beginning, became a bigger deal than it was.

So I said, in a light-hearted manner, I would have loved to have received a message that she wasn’t going to be able to make it. And I got more of an explanation as to why that couldn’t happen. And it went around one more time with more reasons and excuses.

All I wanted was an apology. As I write about it now, a week later, I think of how trivial the whole story seems now, and how totally irritated and consumed I was by it then.

So I couldn’t let it go and had to blog about it.

So then? Why is it so damn hard to say you’re sorry, accept accountability?

It’s not easy – we swallow a bit of pride when we do it. We don’t want to be in the wrong. Like the image above, and like my story above, there are bad ways to apologize, and good ways.

The anatomy of a good apology:

  • Using the word “I” or “We” and the word “sorry” or “apologize”
  • Not following it with the word but.
  • Not followed with I’m sorry that my boss…., I’m sorry that you feel…, I’m sorry I forgot you were an idiot.
  • Knowing the difference between an excuse and an explanation: I got many of excuses in the scenario above. Hootsuite subscribers got an explanation.  – and it was even their fault. Did you read Why Hootsuite Understands Loyalty on Danny Brown’s blog? They sent out an email to their premium subscribers apologizing for the Amazon server outage, explained what was happening with the outage, and went on to offer credits due to an outage for which they could easily have pointed a finger.
  • Be lighthearted, humble, and if the situation allows, there is nothing wrong with some self-deprecation, ie. laugh at yourself a little bit. That’s what Red Cross when an errant tweet from an employee went out on the wrong account, saying that she going to go out and #getingslizzard. Red Cross pulled it and replaced it with a light-hearted apology and a sense of humor. The hashtag was then used to drive more people on the blood drive. You can read Red Cross and Social Media by Mack Collier.

Don’t misunderstand me, clearly every situation involves it’s own levels of risk at stake upon accepting accountability, admitting fault.  I recognize that this all started from a mere missed phone call which I won’t even remember next month. Until I read this post again. But often the cost of covering your ass far outweighs the cost of accepting responsibility.

And you know what? You’ll find people are far more likely to forgive when you show your human side, that we all do err. That we are not alone in making mistakes.

And if you’re the offender, and you’re reading this now, well, I’M SORRY. I’m sorry I couldn’t let it go. But thank you for the blog topic inspiration.