People With High Emotional Intelligence Regularly Use These 5 Words

I’m convinced that one of the hardest things for a leader to do is apologize. I don’t mean the “I’m really sorry this thing happened, but here’s why it’s not my fault” kind of apology. That’s not even an apology. I’m talking about the “I was wrong, I’m sorry,” kind of apology.

Those five simple words are more powerful than you think. For a lot of leaders, it’s the first three words that really trip them up. It’s easy to think that you’re mostly right when you’re the one who gets to make all the decisions. After all, why else would they have asked you to be in charge?

To be fair, it’s not just leaders. Humans, as a group, are pretty bad at apologizing. No one likes to admit they were wrong, which, if you’re apologizing, its probably what happened. It takes a level of humility to admit that you did something wrong and offer a sincere apology.

One of the reasons I think those five words–I was wrong, I’m sorry–are so powerful is that it’s actually not that hard to apologize. What I mean is that most of us have gotten very good at saying words that generally sound like an apology, but aren’t. We say things like “I’m so sorry you feel that way,” or “I’m sorry if I upset you.”

The thing is, when you say things like that, you aren’t actually apologizing for what you did. In fact, there’s a better chance than not that you don’t think you did anything wrong.

Think about it–you can’t apologize for the way someone else feels. You can only apologize for your own actions. If you’re saying that you’re sorry “if I upset you,” you’re placing that burden back on the person who is upset. You’re saying to them “I really don’t think you have any right to be upset, but here’s a few words to hopefully make you feel better.” Pro tip: it won’t make them feel better.

“I’m sorry” is a lot more genuine if it comes after an acknowledgement that you actually regret that you did something wrong. There is something incredibly powerful about saying out loud “I was wrong,” especially when you’re talking to your team.

The people you lead deserve to hear you admit when you’ve made a mistake. You owe it to them to do the painful work of examining your actions and acknowledging when you get it wrong.

The reason most people don’t is because, well, admitting we’re wrong is painful. Mostly, it’s painful to our pride, though it’s surprising how far people will go to avoid pain, even when it means denying what is obvious to any objective observer.

Still, something about your DNA changes when you’re given the responsibility of leading people. There’s something about having influence that changes the way you think about your own behavior, especially in relationship to the people you lead.

The thing is, humility is actually really important in a leader. The ability to recognize that your actions have hurt or offended someone else might be the most important trait of a good leader. That takes a degree of emotional intelligence–the ability to understand your own emotional reaction to a situation– that a lot of people simply don’t have. Instead, they respond out of defensiveness or frustration.

But, good leaders know that if you’re going to apologize, start by admitting what you did, and acknowledging that it was wrong. Then, say you’re sorry. Ultimately, what you’re telling your team is that the relationship is more important than your own pride. It’s so simple, but emotionally intelligent leaders know that it goes a long way.

This post is written by Jason Aten.

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