Why is it so hard to apologise?

This week is NAIDOC week. It’s a week to formally celebrate the history, culture and achievements of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

I’ve been enjoying recently watching the decisions we are making as a country that are inclusive of our First Nations people. NSW Government planning to have the Indigenous flagpole alongside the Australian one. A parliament with a Minister for Indigenous People that is actually an Indigenous person, The Hon Linda Burney MP. To name a few.

Our First Nations people have been the longest known living tribe in the world. I find that astonishing. How lucky are we that we have had generation upon generation tending and protecting this land? Sewing energy into the place we stand on a daily basis. I am deeply grateful.

I reckon one of the things we needed to do was to acknowledge and apologise for the lack of respect, stolen generations and poor treatment of the beautiful First Nations people of this country. It has been a helpful step. A small one but a helpful one.

So why do we find apologies so hard? I am asking as humans – not as politicians. That’s a landscape I have little interest in pulling apart. More specially, why do you find them difficult at times?

Apologies are a place that is uncomfortable for most.  They make us vulnerable; people will see our imperfections or they may be used against us. If you admit where you blew it then that could be thrown back in your face later.  

Or worse still we may be rejected anyway, the receiver might not be ready to acknowledge or receive it and then where are we left?  With serious egg on our face.  It is this uncertainty that gives the apology such power and impact.  Putting yourself out there and owning your stuff is a courageous place.

John Kador, author of Effective Apology, defines an apology as the “willingness to value the relationship more than the need to be right”. It can be excruciating to face ourselves and others when we have offended or hurt them. We are afraid to apologise because we don’t want to say too little or too much and make things worse. 

And for those of you who need to win the discussion and find the very thought of an apology enough to give you a hernia then consider that an apology is a good way to have the last word (she says tongue in cheek).

The perception of an apology has moved from a sign of weakness.  Apology is now a great sign of leadership.  Leaders model accountability, transparency and humility.

When an apology is coated in authentic self-reflection, they go a long way towards building trust and respect.  I mean honest to goodness self-reflection where you own your stuff and are honest about your mistakes or contribution. These apologies promote reconciliation and are a proactive step forward in re-establishing the relationship.  

They are needed when you or others have clearly violated the respect of an individual or a group.

Apologies matter. A lot. They are like superglue for relationships to mend and grow together. Saying sorry, coated in authenticity, shows vulnerability, a lack of ego and kindness. 

What’s one thing you could apologise for, to build a better relationship – and to be proud of yourself? Only you can answer that.

If you liked this then you might like to attend my upcoming event on Embedding a feedback culture. You can find out more and register here https://canwetalk.co/events/.