Performance Perspectives Blog

The art of the apology

by | Jun 5, 2010

Peggy Noonan’s WSJ column today discusses Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game which was only broken up by a bad call made by umpire Jim Joyce. There were two exceptional lessons to take from that event. First, Galarraga’s demeanor, which was humble, understanding, and forgiving. And second, Joyce’s humility in his sincere and heartfelt apology to Galarraga, immediately after realizing his mistake. That apology helped diffuse the situation.

Once when I was mayor of North Brunswick (NJ) I got a very nasty e-mail from a resident who complained about the very poor job that was done in removing the snow from his road. I responded with an apology, and I took responsibility for what had occurred (we had failed to contract with an outside party to supplement our public works department, and the snow was too large for our team to handle in an efficient manner). Well, I guess he was so shocked by my admission of guilt that he responded by apologizing for his nastiness; he also mentioned that his wife was mad at him because he had included her name in the signature line.

George W. Bush was often criticized for not apologizing. Others, too, seem to have a difficulty admitting when they’re wrong. I don’t believe I have this problem as I’ve apologized quite a bit for the many goofs I’ve made. When you’re wrong, admit it…what’s so hard about that? But for many, it is.

In various aspects of our industry I see mistakes made; often quite innocently, where the guilty party of course had the best intentions but simply made a mistake. I recall one official document (that’s all I’ll say in describing it) that had been prepared which was heartily dismissed by the public. Well, later during a revision when I commented about it the author was quick to tell me that they didn’t want to discuss it; I wasn’t being accusatory, I was simply pointing something out relative to it. Why couldn’t that individual simply have said something like “well, I guess I was wrong in my expectations.”? For some, apologies are apparently not seen as a positive acknowledgment of error but perhaps a sign of weakness; if anything, I’d say they’re a sign of strength.

This post is more about life than performance measurement. And so perhaps it’s fitting to end with one of my favorite quotes from Ogden Nash, which is intended as advice to a new bridegroom:

To keep your marriage brimming, 
With love in the loving cup, 
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it; 
Whenever you’re right, shut up.” 
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge errors. As Galarraga  pointed out, “nobody’s perfect.” Don’t pretend to be.

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