March 10, 2009

Collegial Apology

Posted in Business tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 4:31 am by lindaslongview

The process of attribution is effectively taught in engineering school and in the technology workplace – we see acknowledgements in presentations, references in papers, and funding thanks in reports.  However, attribution alone is insufficient to be successful over the long term.  The long view requires us to nurture and build relationships with colleagues over the full spectrum on our road to success.  To that end, it is the dark side that is often unappreciated – how to say you are sorry and make amends for slights which take the form of omission, overvaluation of one’s own work above others’ points-of-view, and unintended consequences of expediency.

An honest awareness of daily actions and inactions will likely uncover a host of things for which our need to be right got in the way of being collegial.  When we recognize these situations, it is imperative that corrective action be taken.  We must offer a sincere apology and accept the discomfort of doing so knowing that it will help us to do better next time.

Delivering a sincere and meaningful apology falls into the realm of things technologists need to know to be successful. What is needed is a sincere acknowledgement of the error, acceptance of blame, and no further explanation.  This strategy meets most primal needs for satisfaction.  Although there are entire treatises on an apology, the “on defense” advice in How to Be Useful:  A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work (Hustad) is very appropriate and helpful (how I wish I read this book when I first started my career!). She warns of the non-apology like “I’m sorry that you’re upset” or some variation, which will backfire and not effectively gain long-term collegial appreciation.

Even though apologies should routinely be timely, I learned in kindergarten (or thereabouts) that “It’s never too late to say you are sorry.” This adage is just a special case of the quintessential long view adage “better late than never.”