Would You Handle Your Screw-Ups As I Have Mine?


Trust is the KILLER APP. A new client retained me last week. I told him I’d write up the agreement and pricing if he wanted it, but I didn’t need it. He could dump me at any time, and I’d fix to his liking any issue regarding payments.  He was fine with that and said he only worked with people he trusted. I told him I’ve only had one client ever who didn’t pay; he offered that that client was the one who really lost out. We’ll do great work together, because trust is the killer app! But what happens when you corrupt the code in the trust app?

This past week, I totally busted TWO different connections of trust. An extended family member called me out for not looking him up as I had said I would when I was back in Michigan. The same day, one of my daughters got on me for a similar situation where I had said on a few occasions that I would do something for her. And I hadn’t.

I hate making mistakes, and I suppose even more I hate being called to account. My first instinct is to push back — to protect, justify, or even go on the offensive (actually my first instinct is to see if I can avoid the discomfort of the confrontation). But I listened, and offered my best apologies to each:

  • 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

Both family members accepted my apology graciously. I appreciated that. They rubbed no salt in.

The bulleted list above matches up with some pretty good research about trust-building apologies. Some researchers suggest adding self castigation (e.g., “I’m such a loser”), but I disagree. I think that makes it “about me,” when it really should be about them.  It’s like a sneaky trick to gain their kindness for my stupidity. Agree?

What do you think?  Do you have a similar bullet list and does it work?

Slapping one’s own wrist?

Obviously, one has to actually uphold the new promise to re-earn the other’s trust.  Yet I have one more question with which I’m still grappling: How do I forgive myself?  Despite the forgiveness they offered, I had trouble all week forgiving myself. Further encounters with them have helped. And as I used to tell that daughter when she was  a little one, “time heals all wounds.” But I’m intrigued by the loss of energy and the incompleteness I’ve felt. Love your thoughts about self-forgiveness and forward movement!!!

Lead with your best self,