Right Wrongs


When you break a promise, is your first instinct to defend yourself, rationalize, minimize, or ignore it altogether?
A colleague and mentor introduced an empowering concept termed “pre-forgiveness.” Essentially, it means: You’re pre-forgiven. You will make mistakes. It’s part of each of our journeys. If we live in fear of making a misstep, we won’t place any bets, take any risks, or stretch our skills. This doesn’t mean people get a free pass for bad behavior, but rather you acknowledge that everyone falls short, and it’s okay.
When righting wrongs, it’s remarkably disarming to take full responsibility. Nothing neutralizes anger more than a sincere, excuse-free apology and an action to correct the situation. Consider some version of the following when you find yourself having wronged someone:
“I want to tell you something very important. I’m truly sorry for the way I behaved. I was wrong. I own it. I’m sorry. I hope you can forgive me, and I intend to make a sincere effort to ensure I don’t ever do that to you again or to anyone else. I have learned a hard and valuable lesson sadly at your expense, and I want you to know how seriously I am taking it. Furthermore, I intend to take [fill in the blank] action to make it right between us. Is that something you would value, or do you have a better suggestion I should consider?”


  • Consider instituting a pre-forgiveness culture with your team. Talk with each other about what that really means and come to some agreements about the positive and negative implications.
  • If you’ve violated an expectation or broken a promise, acknowledge it. Resist the urge to rationalize.
  • Take full responsibility by offering an unconditional apology, then take action to right the wrong. An excuse-laden apology is only remembered for the excuse, not the apology.
  • Recognize that if you have to apologize often, there may be other issues to address. Also remember the adage “If you’re not pissing someone off, you’re probably not accomplishing anything.” Find the balance between them.

To learn more about righting wrongs, watch this short clip from Scott Miller, author of Management Mess to Leadership Success.

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