Route to the top: Six ways to swallow your pride

When you get it wrong, don't be afraid to say so - even if it means swallowing your pride.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Stop the buck. When bosses at a bank announced a restructure, they were surprised at how well employees reacted. Why? 'Someone from HQ admitted they made a mistake.' Blaming technology, the recession, or your team may help you out of hot water, but accepting responsibility gets you further.

Spell it out. 'Sorry' is uttered 368 million times a day in the UK, usually as a reflex. Sincerity requires specifics. 'I was wrong' is good. Better is: 'I was wrong to promise the client a 24-hour turnaround.' And better still: 'I was wrong to promise a 24-hour turnaround and tell the team via e-mail rather than in person.'

Make amends. Grovelling feels terrible, looks disingenuous and achieves little. But swallowing our pride can involve more than an apology. Compensate the wronged by repairing the damage (explanatory e-mail to upset client), relieving their pain (covering their 8am meeting), or treating them (an early finish).

Let them off. Forgiving can be harder than apologising: we lose our power over the transgressor and must quash our moral outrage. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission encouraged people to admit atrocities and be forgiven, avoiding war crime trials or revenge punishments. It brought national catharsis and a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy. If others can forgive at such a level, so can we.

Get selfish. Research shows that forgiveness is linked to lower blood pressure and better sleep-quality. If you can't get past your manager's last remark, weigh up 'proving a point' against 'feeling calmer, enjoying the rest of my day and sleeping soundly'. Still feel like bearing that grudge?

Acknowledge exceptions. Sometimes, it pays to stand firm - no need to apologise for being tough on an underperforming team member. Don't be a pushover. If you keep forgiving the same person, consider cutting your losses: report the bullying MD, ignore the back-stabbing colleague, ditch the supplier.

- The Mind Gym: Relationships is published by Little, Brown at £12.99 -

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