If You’ve Screwed Up — Readers Offer GREAT Strategies for Recovery

Last week I shared a couple mistakes I made, how I tried to recover (my bulleted list immediately below), and my lingering frustration with myself.  I asked how others felt about my strategies and my lingering dis-ease. The comments were so good that I’m reprinting them here.  First my list:

  • I described what I had done, as they described it;
  • I empathized with their sense of disappointment and hurt;
  • I expressed my regret that I had done this;
  • I apologized; and
  • I promised I would be more mindful and do better

I felt like WillHart threw cold water on me to bring me to my senses and move forward.  Sometimes I (we?) need that.  He wrote:

You said “But I’m intrigued by the loss of energy and the incompleteness I’ve felt. Love your thoughts about self-forgiveness and forward movement!!!” Change your jacket. When you were “full of energy and complete” you were wearing your best jacket, you were giving 100% of who you are into what you did. When your family member called, you emotionally changed into a jacket you had planned to donate to Good Will. And based on what you said you wore that jacket for a week or so. All that week, everybody you interacted with got that dingy-jacket you. You had taken a failure in your Family role and let it affect your Spouse, Friend, Leader, Spiritual, Financial, Job, etc. roles. When you fail in any role you play in life, do everything you said you did… right after you emotionally change back into your best jacket, and recommit giving 100% of who you are into all you do.

Anna, offered important research and the effect it has on others and on herself:

Great bullet list Dan. It reminds me of the research from Jeff Ford on keeping “agreements” with others at work that are imbedded in our interactions with others, including as members of teams. His research shows that apologies — even sincere ones — only work for so long and not repeatedly. If someone doesn’t do what they promised a third time, the relationship and trust is difficult to ever repair or regain, respectively. This impacts team and overall organizational performance. Based on his work, and my own foibles and mistakes over the years when I have failed to live up to some of my promises, I have grown to believe that actually keeping the “renewed” promise that accompanies the apology — and without delay — is usually the best path to finally forgiving myself.

David Gad-Harf, an admired friend, offered an interesting “good karma” practical strategy:

I can relate, Dan. No matter how many times I hurt or disappoint others, for some reason I continue to think that I should be perfect and focus too much of my mental energy feeling bad that I’m missing the mark. I want to somehow make amends, but that’s usually not possible, so maybe the next best thing is to do something good in another situation. E.g., using your examples, you could call another Michigan relative out of the blue to see how they’re doing, or do something nice and unexpected for your daughter. Thank you for helping me think through this. I think I’ll call an out of town relative!

Finally, Amy Southwell Peterson wondered about connections to public apologies.  I had no answer to her question. Do you?

Dan, I am the hardest on myself and I hate it when I let someone down. Generally I am pretty underwhelmed with the public apologies in the news. I have the feeling that many of these people have agents or handlers who tell these folks how to get out ahead of the criticism. I’ve seen this discussed recently when people give their spin on Christie’s apologies. It’s very difficult to determine that public apologies are authentic. That said, people do make mistakes, and we all should have a capacity for sincere forgiveness. I wonder if we were to list the public apologies in our lifetime that we really found to be honest apologies, what our list would look like.

Great thoughts, eh.  As Will Hart said, you oughta wear your BEST Jacket to
Lead with your best self,

  • Thanks for sharing the comments from others. I have thought for “going forward” which ties to some of what Anna said. It’s often better to say “no” or “not now” or to work with the other person or group to come up with an alternative plan than saying “yes” and then having to apologize. The old “under promise and over deliver” also fits.

    I say this knowing that I’m about to ask you a favor, so I may reap a “no” – but better a heartfelt no than creating a situation where you have to apologize!

  • I hope my message doesn’t get posted twice…
    One approach for the future is a good use of a sincere “I wish I could” (aka “no”) or “not now” or working together with someone making a request to come up with a solution that works for everyone involved.
    I almost hesitate to say this because I’m about to ask you a favor and I could reap the results of my own suggestion!

  • I like your list, and I also notice how hard you are on yourself. You had trouble forgiving yourself. It occurs to me that if we have trouble forgiving ourselves, then maybe we have trouble forgiving others, also. Immediately under your posting was the ad for the video “Are You Too Critical? Research Says…Probably.” Same principle. If you are too critical of others, you are probably too critical of yourself, and vice versa.

    So, how to free oneself? Have you heard of teh Ho’oponopono? I originally heard it described as a “Hawaiian prayer” but you will see that it’s not exactly that. I’m sure there’s more behind it than these simple words, but there’s some charm here.

    When you’ve caused harm to someone, you would say: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.” And here’s where it really does some good: when YOU have been harmed, you say it. Doesn’t have to be out loud. But imagine…

    So about your list…this probably works best with people you are close to, but I’m wondering the impact if you added the “I love you.” In the examples you gave, your daughter and your friend might’ve been suffering from the thought that you didn’t care enough to do what you said. The “I love you” might’ve completed things — and would’ve eased your remorse, as well. Thank you for your wisdom and for graciously opening up the conversation.

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