Details and speculation have been rolling in all week about who’s to blame for last Sunday’s mix-up. But the bigger question is why many of us are so reluctant to say we screwed up and what to do about.
Saving face is more prevalent in some cultures than others, but it’s fairly universal.
It’s never fun to say, “Oops! I messed up. My mistake.”
It’s hard enough to fess up when it is your fault. It’s even harder when the person at fault is a close friend or someone higher up the proverbial career food chain. You don’t want to be the tattletale because “snitches get stitches,” nor do you want to make your boss look foolish.
Generally, there are three types of people:
Those who apologize for everything (even if it’s not their fault). You know the ones. Even when someone bumps into them while walking down the street, they immediately apologize to the person who ran into them. Seems bass ackwards, but it happens.
Those who realize you need to take ownership for your mistakes to move forward. Thankfully, they’re increasing in numbers — or at least I’d like to think they are. People who’ve been hurt like to feel they’re being heard, and just the act of acknowledging you screwed up is often enough.
Those who would rather be perceived as an a-hole than ever utter the phrase “I’m sorry.” They’re tough little cookies who insist on saving face even though doing so undermines their credibility. It’s like Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes — everyone else realizes what’s going on except for the emperor himself. You aren’t fooling anyone except yourself.
These categories aren’t static. We may apologize obsessively while traveling in new places, be understanding with our close friends and family, but a complete shark at work.
It’s a delicate balance.
You don’t want to accept blame for something you didn’t do. Doing so may open you up to liability that results in getting fired, a lawsuit, etc. This is different than saying, “I’m sorry you feel hurt.”
You do want to move forward. (At least we assume you don’t want to hold a grudge and stew over this for eternity.)
To achieve this, make sure you get the facts straight. Act quickly to make sincere apologies where they are due. Listen to how the affected party feels. Make whatever adjustments are necessary. Move on.
It’s amazing what this can accomplish.
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