I’ve worked with people who are skilled at the art of the personal apology, who will earnestly look into your eyes and take responsibility for your disappointment–whatever it is–and promise to make it better.

“Hey, that’s on me.”

“My bad.”

“I’m sorry.”

I’ve worked with other people who are skilled at the less-than-personal apology. Just as earnest, this apology says little more than “OK, I hear you,” and then sets about fixing it.

As a person who messes up not infrequently, I’m trying to be more the latter, because I am strongly inclined to the former. But the personal apology can be a kind of a dodge, can’t it? Aren’t we disarming critical feedback by responding with such compunction? Won’t people feel more free to share how we could have been better, and won’t we learn more, if we don’t meet that feedback with so . . . so . . . personally?

By all means, if you messed up, own it. The people you work with will respect you more for it, and you will get better. But don’t make it more about you than it needs to be, and if the mess up isn’t actually yours to own don’t make it about you at all. Taking responsibility for something you didn’t do might feel pacifying in the face of someone’s frustration, but they probably care more about a solution than a personal apology.

“Got it.” Then move on.

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