Learning How to Say I’m Sorry

Learning How to Say I’m Sorry

Everybody makes mistakes. It’s just part of the human condition. In every workplace, relationships sometimes go off track, causing complaints or hurt feelings, leaving customers feeling disappointed or unhappy. And in some industries, errors can lead to serious, perhaps fatal consequences. When mistakes happen, individuals, teams and organizations reveal their true colors by how they respond. Do they take responsibility? Attempt to make corrections or restitution? Or do they try to deny or whitewash the problem? Maybe even blame the victim?

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Open and Honest = Positive and Productive

Admitting mistakes can be humbling and sometimes feel dangerous. But customers and staff expect and deserve to be treated with respect and fairness—which includes honest communication, especially after a hiccup. Most people can understand and live with mistakes, but they won’t tolerate denial. It’s the supreme violation of trust. Through our work with leaders and teams, we know open and respectful workplace cultures make owning up to errors and apologizing for mistakes possible. What’s more, leaders and teams who know how to hold these difficult conversations and apologize effectively:

  • Inspire trust by modeling resilience and open, honest communication for staff, customers and suppliers.
  • Develop the capacity to re-establish communication and actually expand trust in the wake of mistakes, leading to higher positivity and productivity.

The Effective Apology

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it is a noble and courageous act; it’s also a skill that takes practice and commitment to ensure ideal results. Here’s how to master the art of the effective apology:

  1. Notice and use your co-workers’ preferred apology language. Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, authors of “The Five Languages of Apology,” note these possibilities: 1. Expressing regret—”I’m sorry.” 2. Accepting responsibility—”I was wrong.” 3. Making restitution—”What can I do to make it right?” 4. Repenting—”I won’t let that happen again.” 5. Requesting forgiveness—”Will you forgive me?”
  2. Try Debra Schmidt’s (www.theloyaltyleader.com) “LEARN” acronym: Listen to the complaint. Empathize. Apologize. Respond. Notify the wronged party about further developments.
  3. Openly discuss with your leadership team ideal responses based on the concepts of fair and respectful treatment. Most organizations embed these principles in a statement of customers’ service guidelines.
  4. Know that disclosure and apologies are good for the bottom line. In this tough economy, experience shows: organizations attract more clients when customers know they’ll be treated courteously and fairly if problems come up; staff morale rises when employees know they can help clients as needed; and people want to be part of an organization that trusts them to say and do the right thing.

Courageous teams—those willing to adjust their attitudes about apologies—empower and propel their organizations toward greater productivity and mission fulfillment. Our job as coaches is to create safe, trustful environments where these courageous conversations can unfold. With skillful facilitation and consistent support, the results can be remarkable. Are you and your team courageous enough to apologize for mistakes?

Capitalizing on Change

Capitalizing on Change

Ah, September. A perfect time for new beginnings. As a Continuing Care leader, you’re often called on to spearhead new initiatives and facilitate changes. Which is seldom an easy job. Reorganizations, staff reassignments and such often demand tough conversations with co-workers, residents and their families.


Change theory experts like Margaret Wheatley support what we know from experience— effective communication is essential in helping teams adjust to change quickly, while ineffective communication costs time, energy and opportunities.

If you and your team are like most of us, just getting around to those tough conversations can be a challenge. Yet the inability to lead difficult discussions respectfully and successfully can lead to low morale and productivity. Unaddressed issues can turn into “the elephant in the room,” keeping groups from making necessary course corrections.


Here’s a checklist we use to help teams and individuals break this cycle and communicate effectively.

  1. First, get clear about the outcome you’re after.
    What message do you want to convey? Why is it important? Connecting as a team to a shared intent makes it possible to bring order out of confusion. If you’re tackling a gnarly discussion on your own, be proactive. Invest a few minutes beforehand writing out what you want to say. You might just avoid cleaning up misunderstandings later.
  2. Recognize your own feelings about the situation.
    Working through what’s at stake for you personally as well as the organization can put you in control of your emotions so they won’t run amok in the group setting.
  3. Remember your attitude is key. 
    Most communication occurs nonverbally—55 percent through facial expressions and body language; 38 percent through tone of voice; and only 7 percent, words. Be sure you convey a genuine openness to what others have to say. Be willing to negotiate, even to hear the word “no.” (Of course, when “no” is not an option, say so.)
  4. Rehearse the conversation! 
    Planning and practice mean you’re taking leadership, not leaving the outcome to chance, but instead helping to ensure your desired outcome.


Maximize your communication success with these three additional tips:

  1. Take responsibility. 
    Focusing on “I” statements—”I regret” or “I believe” rather than “you never”—establishes ownership of your emotions, creates clarity and models clean communication for others.
  2. Really listen. 
    We’re all equipped with two ears and one mouth, best used accordingly. So be curious about what others have to say. Ask questions, then stifle the urge to judge and seriously consider the answers.
  3. Take breaks as needed. 
    We can only absorb information for about 90 minutes at a time. So when eyes begin to glaze over, stop for a while before picking up the conversation.


Join Mary Ellen and Juhree at the BCNPHA conference on Nov. 16th at 2pm for a special workshop, “The Only Constant is Change – How to Navigate the Shifting Seas.”

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Rx for Leaders in Continuing Care

Rx for Leaders in Continuing Care

We understand.

Your life as a leader in Continuing Care is a balancing act. You’re constantly juggling competing priorities—work, family, friendships, and all that other day-to-day stuff. How would you like a reason to hit the pause button?

That’s exactly why we’re sending you this letter—the first of a monthly series. Here’s your chance to take a breath, reflect on what you’re already doing right, and pick up a few inspiring new ideas to boost and sustain your team’s high performance.


We don’t have to tell you it’s a good idea to take a break now and then. Plenty of medical studies, plus Daniel Goleman’s work in emotional intelligence and Barbara Frederickson’s recent, groundbreaking book, “Positivity,” document the benefits. There’s just no doubt about the physiological, psychological and performance advantages of pausing to reflect and refresh.

But who has time? Meeting the demands of residents, staff and families, not to mention that endless to-do list, doesn’t leave much time for you—the leader. Kinda like the shoemaker’s kids going barefoot, isn’t it?


Now the good news. You can create positive breaks to help revitalize yourself and your team. How? In our experience with teams in Continuing Care, we’ve discovered four simple ideas that deliver the most impact with the least effort.

  1. Laugh.
    Sharing a little good humor, maybe a joke or a funny story, builds relationships, strengthens positivity, even boosts immunity. The team that laughs together can also find the resilience and capacity to weather storms and produce great, sustainable results.
  2. Celebrate accomplishments.
    With its crazy pace, shrinking resources, and ever-evolving complexity, the world of Continuing Care isn’t exactly conducive to appreciation. But you can change that. Invest five minutes at the start of team meetings to acknowledge your successes—whether small achievements or major milestones like opening a new unit, launching new services, or completing accreditation. Believe us, just 300 seconds of celebrating can recharge, even supercharge your team.
  3. Say thank you. 
    A heartfelt “thanks” in return for gifts and favors, whether tangible or intangible, builds positive connections with others.
  4. Remember why you’re here.
    As Continuing Care professionals, you and your team play a vital role in the lives of countless individuals and families, not to mention the community at large. Bottom line, what you do is critically important. Yet it’s not uncommon for Continuing Care workers to experience burn-out—feeling overworked and underpaid. Sharing stories about what initially inspired you to choose your career can help renew that early passion for the work.


Have you already tried one or more of these ideas? Can you suggest other tips that work for you? If so, we’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below or write us at me@conduitcoaching.com.