OK, so I don’t really believe one really should never ever apologise or explain BUT when I look at how public discourse is currently framed, I can’t help but wonder whether apologising and explaining more often than not makes things worse.
At a time when people are trying to make incredibly difficult decisions from a position of relative and perfectly reasonable ignorance, there are bound to be mistakes. At a time when historic injustices appear to many not to be historic at all but a lived reality, mis-steps are inevitable. At a time when we can’t communicate in the ways we are used to, miscommunication is a real risk. Are we better off just ploughing ahead and not trying to explain ourselves?
Perhaps the preferable option is not to make mistakes in the first place. Naturally it is impossible to avoid them altogether but often the problem arises when decisions are made on the hoof, with insufficient information and inadequate consultation. It is so easy to follow our own instincts and then selectively find data to back them up when of course the sensible thing is to interrogate our predispositions and look really hard at what undermines them.
It is particularly notable in large organisations that policies often appear to be developed in isolation and then turn out to have far wider ramifications than initially assumed, leading to complaints, concerns and, inevitably, a rethink. Even on a smaller scale, many business leaders will identify a problem and then attempt to solve it without properly assessing a) how the problem arose in the first place and b) how many options are available to solve it.
I am only too well-aware that many companies are finding themselves faced with unavoidable situations which offer no alternatives but the hard choices. I am also aware that you can’t please everyone – or even most people – whatever you do. However, when we show that we have listened to other voices and taken all the options into account and when we show how we have reached our conclusions and why, then we have a much better chance of taking people with us.
If we don’t want to apologise, then we have to explain. If we want to get support from others or if we need to persuade them to back us, then it is incumbent on us to be open to ideas and discussion. Leading from the front can only get you so far – why not use the resources available to us to make good decisions that actually work.