One of the hardest things in this world is to admit you are wrong. And nothing is more helpful in resolving a situation than its frank admission.
To err is human, to blame the next guy even more so.
The nine most powerful words in the English language are the least used, and most needed. The nine words are: "I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me." Simple and direct, factual and emotional, without rationalization or excuse, these words are the hallmark of strong individuals and leaders.
Because people don't use these words, relationships are broken and countless hours are wasted defending indefensible positions. This is particularly true in the corporate world, where "blame avoiders" attempt to deflect or defend bad choices or poor performance. The higher these avoiders are in an organization, the more damage they do, the more people they harm, and the greater resources they waste attempting to justify their actions. The longer a mistake goes on, the greater the damage. These are straightforward truths. Yet, most people will do anything to prevent admitting a mistake.
When someone has the courage to use these nine words, respect increases and relationships deepen. People who want to live a surpassing life have the confidence to use these words quickly when the need arises, and thus strengthen their bonds with others. No one expects perfection, or that someone will never make a mistake. What people can expect is that a person quickly and genuinely admits the mistake, so everyone can move on.
Sadly, leaders are the least likely to confess that they were wrong. Instead, they often demand their staff defend an error with countless analyses and presentations. "We think the merger was a good idea, despite our stock dropping 50%. My staff will now show you why." Such leaders are often afraid that admitting a mistake will undermine their credibility, when they are just further damaging their believability by denying their error. It is much better to come clean quickly and spend time determining a corrective course.
Business and personal relationships can benefit greatly from using the nine words. I had a confrontation with an executive at Disney. It was a small matter, but got quickly blown out of proportion, escalating to both of our bosses. I finally made an appointment with the executive at her office. When I arrived and walked in, it was apparent she was "ready for battle." I said, "I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?" She was speechless. All the arguments she had prepared were suddenly moot. She stammered, "Yes, of course." We shared a few more moments of conversation and I left. When I got back to my office, my boss called. "What did you say to her?" he asked incredulously, "Because she is telling everyone what a great person you are!" It's sad that, in the corporate world, admitting you are wrong is such an unusual occurrence that it gets a response like this. I could have maintained my innocence, and we could have continued in battle, wasting precious resources and time. Instead, by my taking responsibility for my actions and admitting my mistake, we were able to move on, and build a great relationship.
Contrary to Erich Segal's quote that "love is not ever having to say you are sorry," most spouses would love to hear the nine words. Often, if one spouse is willing to admit his or her mistakes, the other spouse will become comfortable enough to do the same. I expect many divorces could have been avoided if couples used the nine words more often.
As you think about your relationships, who needs to hear an apology from you? Use the nine words, and you will start to build deeper, surpassing bonds with your loved ones and business partners.
Who needs to hear the words "I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me."? Go and talk to that person today.
Freedom from guilt, less defensiveness, awesome relationships!