The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur is quickly approaching. While most people know that Jews are supposed to fast on that holiday (and ask G-d for forgiveness for their sins), one of the other traditions of the holiday is that Jews are supposed to apologize to all those we have wronged in the previous year.
I must confess I hadn’t thought about that much until I listened to a great podcast recently from Unorthodox, which brought in the publisher of “SorryWatch”, a blog about the art of the apology, to talk about saying you’re sorry.
(And another confession: Sure, I have this blog on employment law in Connecticut — talk about niche! — but the brillance of a blog devoted to apologies is divine! Seriously, it is just an awesome read. They have lots of posts on why an apology is meaningful.)
The podcast was a terrific listen for those who are, and are not, Jewish.
It got me to thinking about the art of the apology in the workplace. Now, I’m not the first one to write about this on an employment law blog. My friend, Molly DiBianca from the Delaware Employment Law Blog, touched it with her three rules for work apologies: Own It. Don’t Overdo It. And Offer a Solution.
[L]eaders should not apologize often or lightly. For a leader to express contrition, there needs to be a good, strong reason.
But in the right way, an apology can help resolve workplace disputes as this post from the JAMS ADR Blog details. Indeed, in mediation, there are ways to use a mediator to get to an apology as well:
Formal face-to-face expressions of regret and responsibility,
while potentially powerful, are rare. By the time the parties
explore settlement, the animosity generated by their litigation
makes it difficult to express anything directly other than
Communication through a neutral is easier. Messages
can be passed to the other side, such as an employer’s
regret that an employee’s skills were not better utilized, a
manager’s admission of ineffective coaching or a supervisor’s
acknowledged failure to appreciate the workplace hostility
experienced by an employee. Acknowledgement of shared
responsibility for the failure of the employment relationship,
coupled with empathy for the hardship caused by the
termination, can convey the employer’s respect for the
terminated employee. Once the employee feels respected
and validated, his or her focus can shift from challenging the
employer’s decision to moving on.
Reference letters can substitute for apologies. Positive,
factual statements about the employee (excerpted from past
performance reviews or deposition testimony) communicate
respect and confirm the value of the employee’s contributions.
But I liked the advice given in the podcast. The five-step approach to the apology.
- Say you’re sorry.
- Say the thing you are sorry for. (As an aside, this is notoriously hard for my kids.)
- Say you understand the import of what you did.
- Make amends.
- Figure out what steps to take so it doesn’t happen again.
It’s not a perfect list, but it’s a pretty good step to start. Workplaces aren’t always about being right; sometimes, it’s saying you’re sorry for the little things, to avoid bigger things down the road.