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Marketing / Business relationships

The importance of apologising

John-Paul and I got carried away at an auction recently and it reminded me about the importance of apologising. Luckily we weren't buying a house. Instead we were purchasing orchids.

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I didn’t realise just how carried away until I went to collect them. I was convinced we’d been given the wrong lot. Starting to mount my high horse, I said to the lady in charge “There must be a mistake! There’s no way we bought all those.” 

“Yes you did.” she said. 

“But that’s impossible!” I went on ranting until, hearing the kerfuffle, John-Paul came over…and put me straight. That was in fact our lot. 

I wasn’t sure how to react. Should I continue to argue, although I knew I was wrong? Should I walk away, without apologising and acknowledging my rudeness? Both options crossed my mind, but eventually I unpursed my lips, and did the right thing. 

I apologised. 

I was genuinely sorry, actually. The lady relaxed her face and smiled in acceptance. 

"Swallowing pride and apologising is far from a sign of weakness, in fact the orchid experience has taught me that the reverse is true."

On reflection, I am ashamed that apologising wasn’t automatic. Why the knee jerk of self-preservation over a simple sorry? I’m well brought up with a good moral compass. I’m not an infant…. So what’s going on? 

I have no excuses and accept that I should have automatically apologised but didn’t. However now that I’ve taken it on the chin, I do also think society actively discourages us from admitting we’re wrong. 

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My greenslip small print, for example, basically says “if you cause an accident, don’t accept any responsibility, and say nothing until the police arrive.” Lucky-ee-e to be with them? I’m not so sure. 

Often when making a cutting comment, whether it’s to a supplier, a business acquaintance or a loved one, we conveniently ignore our impact on another’s feelings and may even blame them for ‘making’ us say it. 

Swallowing pride and apologising is far from a sign of weakness, in fact the orchid experience has taught me that the reverse is true. 

Saying sorry and meaning it is a truly noble and courageous act. What’s more it’s good manners, the Right Thing To Do and importantly, a balm for hurt feelings. 

If we were all just a bit braver about apologising, I bet you a boot full of orchids the world would be a better place. 

What do you think? Am I onto something or does this smack of naivety? Let me know via a comment.

Sam Leader

is a former director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.

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