One day, I was talking to a particularly difficult employee and he was getting mad at me for a company policy over which I had no control. The phone call escalated. I kept my cool, but the guy lost his marbles and ended up screaming at me. My boss, who was a couple of desks over, could hear this guy yelling at me through my phone and came over. I told the guy, “Why don’t you call me back once you’ve had a chance to calm down?” When I hung up, my boss marched straight to HR to report this guy on my behalf.
At a meeting with HR, they wanted to know what happened. I explained. Then they asked me, “What do you want? Do you want an apology?”
Did I want an apology? Huh. No, actually, what I wanted was to never have to deal with this guy again. (I actually got that wish because he was given to another employee to deal with.)
Another time, there was an incident with a fellow parent at my kids’ school, with whom I worked on a committee. He phoned me at home and said some rather unsettling things to me. I did what anyone would do, ran to the principal and tattled. Seriously, I do not put up with that shit but I didn’t know what to do about it.
Because it was a school council committee, the principal said she’d take care of it. She also told me that some of the things this parent said to me could be considered harassment, and that people had called the police for less. I didn’t call the police – honestly, I thought this guy just made a bad judgement call, but he needed to know that what he did was not okay. At the end of my conversation with the principal, she asked me what I wanted; did I want an apology?
There it is again: the forced apology.
No, I didn’t want some forced apology; I wanted the guy to not be a jackass. (Sadly, I did not get this wish.)
I don’t believe in forced apologies. I believe in apologies. Sincere ones. I’m not going to go into detail about what makes a good apology, because I think most of us know if we think about it for a second. There’s also this great post called Leadership and the Anatomy of a Good Apology. It’s good. Give it a read.
What strikes me about this post is this: why do we need posts like this anyway? I think, at least in part, it’s because we have become so accustomed to the fake, forced apology, that some of us actually need step-by-step instructions on how to give a good one. I think about this, as I often do for just about everything, in the context of kids. Raising kids, teaching kids, and having kids understand these little important things in life.
We make kids deliver forced apologies all the time. “Tell little Billy you’re sorry for poking his eye out!” with the threat of a time out or some other punishment. C’mon, we’ve all been there. The kid then reluctantly gives the apology, but you know they don’t mean it. You know that in their head, they are thinking that little Billy got exactly what he deserved for committing whatever unforgivable transgression he delivered just before said eye-poking.
I flip flop on the merits of forcing kids to give these apologies. On the one hand, little Billy deserves an apology; no question about it. On the other hand, I don’t know what we’re teaching kids when we force them to make insincere apologies.
What do you think?
Photo by George Bremer via Flickr.