When was the last time you had to apologize to a customer, partner or even co-worker for something work-related? “I’m sorry” can be two of the most powerful words to reestablish trust but can also be greatly overused by some and completely abused by others.

A recent blog at leadingwithtrust.com titled “The Two Most Powerful Words To Rebuild Trust” highlights these three reasons for apologizing:

  • “It shows remorse – Consider the difference between saying “I apologize” versus “I’m sorry.” The word “apologize” is a verb and it means “to offer an apology or excuse for some fault, insult, injury, or failure.” The word “sorry” is an adjective and means “feeling regret, compunction, sympathy.” Notice the difference in personal feeling ascribed to saying “I’m sorry” versus “I apologize?” Saying “I’m sorry” shows that you own your behavior and you feel bad for how it affected the other person.
  • It demonstrates humility – People with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less. Saying “I’m sorry” shows that you place a higher level of importance on the person you offended than trying to defend, excuse, or rationalize your behavior. Humble leaders are trustworthy leaders, there’s no two ways about it.
  • It displays your vulnerability – Without vulnerability there is no trust. By its very definition, trust acknowledges that you are vulnerable to someone else in some aspect of your relationship, but you’re willing to have faith (trust) in the other person not to take advantage of you. Colleen Barrett, President Emerita of Southwest Airlines, likes to say that people respect you for your competence and skills, but they love you for your vulnerabilities.”

However, I have met too many people in my travels and throughout my career who use apologies as a crutch to get away with irresponsible behavior.  These individuals prefer to talk without thinking or act without strategizing the implications of their words or deeds. When invariably they offend they are the first to say “I’m sorry” believing it is easier to get forgiveness than permission.  Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth as sincerity if the measure of your apology when rebuilding trust is on the line.

Miriam-Webster defines sincerity as the quality or state of being sincere; honesty of mind; freedom from hypocrisy”.  Most people will inherently know if you are being sincere in your apology, so use them sparingly and only with integrity.  It is far better to think before you speak or act in order to mitigate the need for an apology.