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Repair Relational Fender Benders

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Mistakes are inevitable, but these three strategies can help restore damaged relationships. Think back to when you bought your car. Did you relish its glossy, gleaming perfection? Protect and baby it? Avoid dings by parking it as far away from other cars as possible? And, despite your best efforts, has every car you’ve ever owned still accumulated scratches and dents, or been in a collision?

The only way a new car stays pristine is if it remains parked in a garage and is never driven; or it is well cared for and regularly received maintenance and body work.

Relationships are a lot like cars. They start off gleaming and shiny but over time, dirt, dings and accidents accumulate. Like vehicles, relationships need attention and restoration work if they are to stay beautiful and working properly.

I’m confident you strive to be respectful, kind and considerate, especially to your employees. Unfortunately, by virtue of being human, you will consistently dirty up, ding up and create fender benders. So will your employees.

Sometimes all that’s needed to repair a relationship is a simple, heartfelt apology. Regrettably, many people don’t know how to apologize, or worse yet they either lack empathy or have been taught that whoever apologizes loses. While that may be the case in destructive relationships, nothing could be further from the truth.

A key indicator of a healthy, productive relationship is that both parties care and desire to nurture and protect their association. Such relationships increase creativity, productivity and profitability.

Here are my hard-earned, practiced-far-more-often-than-I-would-prefer guidelines for delivering an apology:

  • Speak sincerely and from the heart. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a forced, insincere apology, you know how something that sounds cold, contrived or flippant creates even more damage. On the flip side, a heartfelt “I’m sorry,” “I regret” or “I was wrong” goes a long way toward repairing relational dings and fender benders.

  • Acknowledge responsibility. “I’m sorry I offended you” is very different and far more healing than “I’m sorry if you were offended.” One builds a bridge, the other widens the rift. I’m not advocating you sell your soul by lying if you don’t feel you did anything wrong. That’s not good for any relationship. At the same time, if the person is offended, hurt or angered by what they perceive you did or didn’t do, you’ll never go wrong with, “I’m sorry I offended you. That wasn’t my intent.”

  • Commit to doing better in the future. “I promise to do better,” or, “You can count on me in the future,” provide a much-needed safety net for future interactions.

Here’s the bottom line: While you can’t control if someone accepts your apology, you always have control over when and how you offer it. Sooner is always better than later.

The good news is when you offer an apology containing all three components — heartfelt words, an acknowledgment of responsibility and a promise to improve — your apology will almost always be accepted.

Unfortunately, if you’ve been involved in multiple fender benders or a head-on collisions, an apology alone probably won’t take care of the problem. You’re going to need a good mechanic/body worker such as a highly skilled consultant, coach or relationship professional to help you repair the damage and learn new skills to prevent the problem from reoccurring. As you become skilled at the art of appropriately apologizing, I look forward to seeing you in a shiny, red, dent-free convertible.

Dr. Sherene McHenry, Leadership IQ Expert, empowers organizations and individuals boost their leadership IQ so they can maximize their potential, enhance relationships, and avoid and overcome burnout. The author of Pick: Choose to Create A Life You Love, Sherene is passionate about creating happier lives, healthier relationships and better bottom lines.

Originally published in Garden Center Magazine, March 2015,


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