The Power of an Almost-Apology

President Obama has made an “almost apology” to the police officer he offended with his “acted stupidly” comment.  The President made the comment when discussing the arrest of Black Harvard scholar, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., by Cambridge, Mass. police. The police were called to Gates’ home to investigate a possible break-in but ended up arresting Gates for disorderly conduct.  From most accounts, it seemed that both sides probably overreacted. No charges were pressed.  When later asked to comment on the incident, which was perceived as having racial undertones, President Obama said the arrest was a “stupid” thing to do.

Oh my.  Cambridge police, as you may imagine, didn’t appreciate the accusation that they, as a collective whole, tending to act stupidly.  3d businessmen communicating

Responding to the escalating pushback, Obama called Gates and the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, to “clear the air.”  At a subsequent press gathering, the President told reporters that he had called both men and invited them for a beer at the White House.  The President did not say whether his calls included an apology, nor did he apologize publicly about his comment.  

Many are now asking whether a true apology is necessary or appropriate, or whether it’s enough to simply “clear the air” and put the whole issue to rest.

My answer to this question is a practical one.  If “clearing the air” without a full-blown apology actually does the trick, then no apology is needed. But, more often than not, if you want to be sure that the matter is resolved, an apology is the way to go.  Remember, you don’t have to apologize for something you didn’t do. So, if your intentions were good but the words came out wrong, then apologize for your word choice. 

Is a public apology needed?  Again, I vote “no.”  If those persons who were offended by the comment, they were offended only on behalf of the individuals involved.  No slight was done to members of the public directly.  So, it makes sense that, if the individuals involved are satisfied with the President’s almost-apology, then the public should be satisfied, as well. 

In the workplace, conflict arises constantly.  Employees who understand the value of a sincere and immediate apology (or even an almost-apology), will avoid more senseless arguments, hurt feelings, and have less stress overall.  Plus, when you are the one apologizing, you feel as if you’ve conquered a big part of the conflict just by stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for your actions. Then, even if the conflict does not resolve, you can take away the satisfaction of knowing that you tried and then let go of the results over which you have no control.

With that in mind, be extra kind to your co-workers today.  It’s Monday, after all.

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