Is it okay to say you’re sorry even when you’re not? What about before you’ve even done anything for which you could possibly even be sorry? Actually, saying sorry before asking someone for help is one of the most effective ways to open this person up to providing the help you need. In this article, utilizing what I call the “Pre-Apology Approach”, you’ll see how doing this when the person you are approaching for help seems to be miserable or unhappy has an even more dramatically positive effect.
Here is just one example. As I approached the ticket counter, the agent did not look happy. In fact, he looked downright miserable. This was not a good sign. I needed to change a couple of items on my ticket, and time was of the essence. But, this was a man who, by the looks of things, was prepared to be difficult. How do you work effectively with that potential challenge and end up with a winning situation?
The Sages asked, “Who is mighty?” And answered, “One who can control their emotions and make of an enemy, a friend.” Okay, Burg, time to use that advice and give it your best shot.
First, I approached him with a genuinely warm, friendly smile. While this, in and of itself, is usually helpful, in this case it had no visible effect whatsoever. I have to admit, at that point I really felt like telling him to “shape up and get with it!” Of course, doing that would have just turned a “potential” enemy into a “real” enemy. Instead, I decided to gently disarm him by using, what I call the “Pre-Apology Approach.” This is where you apologize in advance for all he is going to do for you.
“I’m sorry you’ve got to even bother with all this stuff, it must be a real pain in the neck.”
It was that simple. From there he went above and beyond for me. All he needed was for someone to empathize; to communicate an understanding of what he was feeling. Can you believe it? With that one small statement his attitude completely shifted. I’ll bet he was friendlier to the customers that followed me, as well.
And that isn’t the only time I’ve seen that happen. Whether at hotels, a crowded store, within your own family, or practically anywhere else, this works. And, it isn’t so much the apology as much as your understanding that the other person has feelings about something that need to be acknowledged.
The natural reaction would’ve been to match his scowl and battle to an eventual lose/lose. My associate who was there with me compared this encounter to those typical of one of her former employers. She said he would have screamed and yelled, maybe gotten his way (though probably not), but would’ve definitely ruined the moment, and quite possibly the day, for everyone involved.
It’s always easier to get what you want or need by first helping the other person feel good about himself or herself, and about you.
The next time you are about to encounter someone you perceive to be potentially difficult, and feel yourself about to become angry, remember the saying, “A mighty person is one who can control their emotions and make, of an enemy, a friend.” And, often, the pre-apology approach will help to quickly turn things in that direction.