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The Power of the Apology by Roland Nairnsey, New Homes Sales Training

The Power of the Apology

We human beings are strange and wonderful creatures. How many times have you been intensely angry at someone, either in your personal life or in business, and have held a grudge that you think will be impossible to overcome? Then, the person at which you are angry delivers a heartfelt apology.  All of a sudden, your angst seems to melt away; to be replaced with a sense of forgiveness and a newfound camaraderie with the perpetrator of your original ill-will. 

Not all of us are good at apologizing, and many of us believe that if we feel justified in our anger, there is no point in saying “I’m sorry”.  You feel as though if you apologize then you will only embolden the other person, provide them with a false sense of  self-righteousness, and possibly allow them to laud their newfound superiority over you for years to come. “Old School” sales types believed that apologizing showed weakness and that winning was never admitting you were wrong.  Their thoughts were that, if you want to be considered an expert in your field and are convincing your clients that you know everything there is to know about your product or service, then how could you possibly confess to having made a mistake? Please allow me to liberate you from this unrealistic and nonsensical notion. As Plato famously said “To err is human, to forgive divine”. Your clients don’t expect you to be an expert in everything, and would much rather work with someone they can relate to and connect with than a smarmy Eddie Haskell type “know it all”.

I have learned in business, and specifically sales, that if you truly care about your clients and can sublimate your pride when there is a conflict (even if you know you haven’t done anything wrong), then learning these three magic words – “I am sorry” – can allow you to quickly move on and be more successful.

“Perception is Reality”

When we feel slighted, the magical powers of a heartfelt apology will begin the healing process. As a former mentor of mine used to say, “It doesn’t matter who is right, but what is right.”  At some point, the responsibility of blame doesn’t make much difference and doesn’t matter as long as you and your client can come to an agreement on the solution to the problem.  So setting aside any right or wrong mentality to apologize and move forward can make you a more successful sales professional and get your clients started on their path to a new home.

If you are going to take this bold step and begin apologizing in your new home sales career, then here are three simple ground rules to make your apology effective.

  1. Be Sincere: You have to mean it. Authenticity counts and, more often than not, clients know when you aren’t being sincere.
  2. Body Language and Tone of Voice:  Researcher Dr. Albert Mehrabian developed a 7-38-55 Rule of Personal Communication, where the elements of personal communication consist of 7 percent spoken words, 38 percent voice and tone, and 55 percent body language.  This means that 93 percent of personal communication relies on body language and tone of voice, so merely saying the words without the correct inflection and body language can backfire.
  3. No Excuses: This may be the hardest part, but when you apologize, don’t try to justify what you did or did not do. We know you’re a good person, and that you would never have done anything intentionally, so no more “I am sorry, but…”. Instead, invest your time in a heartfelt mea-culpa, without any justification or excuses.

Comedian Larry David in his acerbic series, Curb Your Enthusiasm, addresses this strange phenomenon. Here is an excerpt from Season 9, dealing with the wrong body language. 

Make sure you make real eye contact, and that your body language communicates your empathy and remorse. Larry continues on in the same episode with his friend Funkmeyer, who is typically late for dinner, and has the wrong tone of voice.

Here is the third excerpt from Curb your Enthusiasm, when Larry’s friend makes up for his poor apology performance, with possibly the greatest apology in history.

What Can YOU Learn?

When you have had a conflict with a client, and thankfully the client has been candid enough to share their concerns with you so that you can have an opportunity to make it right, we have to ask ourselves, “What can we learn from this experience?”.

I learned as child that saying sorry is supposed to mean, “It won’t happen again”. Therefore, we need to be honest enough to reflect back on our actions, and be humble enough to take responsibility, so that we don’t keep repeating the same mistakes. Most importantly, we need to embrace the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience. Over the years, I have had some situations with clients, and also with salespeople that I managed, where I have clearly offended them. When confronted, I was usually shocked that someone could have felt that way, as I always see myself as a very well intentioned, cheerful, positive person. However, when I played back the conversation or situation in my mind, I am often mortified about the carelessness of what I said, and can clearly see how easily it could have been misinterpreted. Hailing from London, with that peculiar sarcastic humor we Brits hold so dear, coupled with a personality style that is extremely outgoing, I have worked very hard to modulate what others may perceive as a bombastic style.  While still nowhere near perfect, I have tried to make adjustments depending upon the personality type and culture of the person with whom I am speaking, and sometimes try to slow down and think more before I put my giant size foot in my mouth yet again.

While Larry’s friend Funkmeyer’s apology may well have been comedically over the top, he certainly needed to be more accountable for his actions. So let’s get over our pride and insecurities, and create a more harmonious personal life and more successful business career by mastering the art of a sincere and humble apology.


Roland Nairnsey

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