Fear that Serves: Know the Signs

o-CHANGE-facebookFear. Generally it is thought of as something that gets in the way. Often, this perspective is accurate. Fear can certainly have a paralyzing or debilitating effect on many people. It can stop you in your tracks and keep you from moving ahead towards your objectives.

But fear can also propel you forward. There are times when a feeling of fear prompts you to take some action, or pursue alternative courses to achieve an objective or avoid a circumstance.

The difference between these two types of fear is subtle. I’m not sure that you can actually point to a particular difference in sensation – fear feels icky no matter what. There’s often some stomach churning, heart-racing, or palm sweating going on. The brain tends to go into overdrive. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

In the last week, I’ve had opportunity to be with fear a little bit. My world has been spinning a little out of control (it happens to the best of us): scheduling challenges, the busy-ness of everyday life, an abnormal number of demands on my time, on my energy. Frankly it’s felt daunting and overwhelming and as a result I could feel myself starting to be afraid: afraid that I couldn’t handle things and in turn, afraid of the potential ramifications of not handling it. Can you relate?

Fortunately, I was privileged to record a radio segment with a colleague last week, during which we talked about fear and her understanding of how it serves and doesn’t. One of the distinctions that she made was this: fear that keeps you stuck is a negative, fear that moves you forward is a positive. I thought that was rather profound.

As I extrapolated that thought to my own circumstance, what I realized was this. While it can be difficult to ascertain the energetic difference between the two types of fear, one of the ways to move past fear, to ensure that you don’t stay stuck, is to take action. Any action. Move yourself forward, even one small step, and whatever fear you’re feeling necessarily shifts for the better.

This is what I was able to do as I found myself slowing down and starting to get stuck. I knew that I needed some help and yet, I wasn’t asking for it. Why? Fear. Fear of judgment. Fear of ramifications. Fear of rejection. By allowing these fears to rule the roost, however, all I was doing was keeping myself stuck and exacerbating the overwhelm. And so, I took a big gulp and asked for what I needed.

This simple act – in this case asking for help – resulted in everything shifting. All of a sudden my brain lightened up. The weight on my shoulders lifted. I felt ABLE to ask for help, regardless of the outcome. And as things moved and lightened up, the fear itself dissipated.

Bottom-line: fear can debilitate and fear can serve.  Distinguishing between these two extremes can be a valuable skill. Debilitating fear keeps you stuck; fear that serves moves you forward . In either case, action, no matter how small, will move you past the fear.  And this movement will ensure that you achieve whatever it is you’re aiming for. So, in the words of Susan Jeffers: feel the fear; and do it anyway.

MeditateatworkThe greatest privilege of my coaching practice is working with dynamic leaders. The term “leader” isn’t exclusively a function of professional title; the leaders I work with are often at the helm of something, for sure, and at the same time many of them are simply trying to take a vision that they hold and bring it to life. This vision provides the foundation of their leadership, whether they’re a CEO, a member of a sub-committee or anything in between. In other words, in my world, leadership is about ensuring that ideas are brought to life.

From this perspective of leadership, one of the things that every great leader requires (besides the actual vision) is energy: energy to hold the vision, to birth it and to give it momentum. No matter the leader and no matter the vision, at some point in the process enthusiasm will wane, in some way, shape or form. At this point, the leader’s energy is what will determine how successfully things continue to move forward (or not).  That’s a lot of pressure on the leader.

The world in which we live doesn’t have a problem with people needing energy. It doesn’t seem to, however, give much more than a cursory understanding of the concept. In other words although many would agree that leaders must have energy to lead, actually ensuring that the energy is available is often a hit-and-miss proposition.

What gets in the way? In no particular order, here are a few culprits of which to be wary:

  1. The “I don’t have time” mantra.
  2. To this I say “baloney”. You’ve got as much time as anyone else, and the fact is if you want yoru vision to become reality, you’ve got to invest time in you as much as you invest time in the vision. Otherwise, you won’t have time for anything.
  3. Confusing “self-care” with “selfish”.
  4. Yes, the word “self” is contained in both cases. But self-care is actually, ultimately, an act of service. When you invest in yourself from a place of self-care, there’s an awareness you have that you’re better able to be present for those around you.
  5. Fear of judgment. It’s the old “if I take time to eat my lunch, or to go for a walk, or to nap for 15 minutes then people will think I’m being lazy” belief. Again, toss this aside. You can’t control what another thinks. And rest assured if you allow this fear to stop you from caring for yourself, you will suffer, your vision will suffer, your productivity will suffer, and then you’ll be judged on a whole different level!
  6. The idea that “self-care” is an arduous process. It really isn’t. It’s simply about heightening your awareness of what you need and then doing what’s necessary to meet those needs. Period.
  7. Feeling responsible to the world around you. Responsibility is a good thing, however, responsibility includes responsibility to self. If you’re neglecting this aspect of yourself, you’re not setting a good example and you’re not being the most effective leader you can be.

Once you get past these obstacles, how does a good leader actually engage in self-care?

It all begins with awareness. Too many leaders get caught up in the throws of their day, and fail to recognize simple cues that signal the need for something. Whether it’s food, fresh air, rest, or hydration, if you’re not aware of your body’s cues, it’s hard to meet your needs. So heighten your awareness.

Once you’ve done this, invest in yourself. Take the time needed to take care of you. Nourish and hydrate your body. Rest your brain as much as your physical self.

One of the biggest areas of concern for leaders is that of connection. Leadership can be a lonely endeavour – you’re holding the baton for everyone, you know? And so you’ve got to make sure that you are surrounded by people who have got your back and that you are not inadvertently (or consciously) making yourself alone. Connect with trusted, uplifting individuals as part of a self-care system.

Bottom-line: you cannot be a great leader if you’re running on empty, physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Yes, you’ve got things to do and you can only do them well if you ensure that you’re at your best. Self-care is an essential part of any great leader’s toolkit. Take care of yourself, and you’ll be able to take care of everything else.

???????????????????????????????????????????????Rhythm. It’s a concept that we often associate with the world of music. It’s that subtle, energetic thing that exists in the background of all music, the backbeat, the tone, the timing as it were. When it comes to all things musical, despite its “background” feel, rhythm is a vital component of the experience.

When it comes to your life, rhythm is equally present and equally important. Yet too few of you give any attention or consideration to the rhythm of your life. Why is that? My sense is that it’s because in our technologically advanced world, you’ve actually lost your connection to rhythm. Or perhaps, more accurately, you’ve lost your connection to NATURAL rhythm. And you’re paying a price – perhaps more than you realize – as a result.

Your mind and body have a natural rhythm that they like to follow. If you ever gave yourself a week or two to just follow your energy, you’d quickly become aware of this. Your body would naturally wake at a certain time, you’d feel naturally inclined to call it a day at a certain time, you’d have bursts of energy and times when you’d slow down, maybe even take a cat nap. You’d eat according to when your body tells you – not when the clock tells you. And that last sentence contains within it the essence of what I want you to know: the rhythm that you’ve imposed on your life – the one governed by clocks and schedules – may or may not be the one that actually serves you best. 

Why does this matter? Why am I, a life and leadership coach, writing an article about rhythm? What’s the link between your life’s rhythm and the success that you experience (or don’t) in your life, personal or professional? In short, it’s about optimizing your capacity for success.

When you pay attention to your own rhythm, when you know when you’re at your most energetic, when you need to rest, when you think best, and the factors that influence your rhythm, you can plan accordingly. You can create a schedule that works with your energetic ebbs and flows, rather than against it. You can do the things – engage in the activities – that heighten your natural rhythm, rather than sap it. In other words, being aware of your natural rhythm allows you to work optimally, which in turn leads to success. Period.

Now, here’s the kicker. You’ve got to pay attention. In a world that is literally governed by bells and whistles of all sorts (email reminders, alarm clocks, oven timers – you get the idea) it can be too easy to believe that your life is best run by those pavlovian “dings”.  It’s not. Yes, the world has expectations and setting alarms can help you to meet those. If, however, you can align those worldly expectations – the demands of the world’s schedule – with what works for you naturally, then you are actually more inclined to feel better all around, and to succeed to a greater degree.

Bottom-line: it’s time to pay attention to you. Forget the alarms that are going off around you, and take some time to notice YOUR natural rhythm. Then, align your external schedule, as much as possible, with your internal clock. Doing so will heighten your experience of success. And, to boot, you’ll be better able to enjoy that success.

puzzled-lookThe first quarter of 2014 is officially complete. At this time of year many of you will take stock of goals set three months ago, evaluate what worked, what didn’t and set plans for the next three months. As you review and revise, you will likely determine the degree to which you succeeded or failed. And, in so doing, you will do what so many people do: you’ll make yourself right or wrong, and celebrate or beat yourself up accordingly.

Well, it’s time to change this approach to evaluation.

Success and failure are often thought of as opposite ends of the accomplishment and achievement spectrum. While many subscribe to this viewpoint, what I know for sure is that it’s not accurate and, because it’s not accurate it doesn’t actually serve you well, if success of any sort is your ultimate objective. When it comes to the achievement of a goal – any goal – it’s not a question of failing or succeeding. Instead, it’s a question of failing your way to success. Let me explain.

In a nutshell, failure is nothing more or less than an opportunity to learn. Every failure contains within it a lesson to be learned, if you’re willing to see it. Too often, when a goal isn’t achieved, the tendency is to “throw in the towel”, to write the experience off as a done deal and abandon the goal altogether. This approach to success – or to goal achievement – guarantees that you’ll never achieve or accomplish whatever it is you desire. If you continually stop when things don’t work out as planned, envisioned or desired, you simply will not—you cannot – get where you want to go, literally or metaphorically.

So, what do you need to do instead? Change your perspective when it comes to the relationship between success and failure. Start viewing failure as part of the journey to success, rather than the antithesis of success. Whenever you fall short of your objective, holding the question of “what have I learned” or “what is the lesson” will allow you to continue to move towards your goal, making tweaks as necessary.

Bottom-line: failure is NOT a bad thing. The more you go out of your way to avoid failure, the more success will elude you. So, if you truly want to be successful, change your relationship with failure. The only way to succeed is learn from your supposed failures, glean the lessons in each experience and ultimately fail your way to your goal.

teamworkThe time between February 1st and May tends to be super-busy in my world, personally and professionally. It’s a time of year when I take great care to ensure that I am honouring my own needs on all levels – spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally – while keeping things on track all around me.

As I look to the lives of my clients and colleagues, I notice similar trends. Whether it’s in response to a desire to get things done before the anticipated relaxing days of summer, or a renewed interest in goal achievement, or something else altogether, activity seems to ramp up in the late winter and early spring. Correspondingly, stress seems to ramp up as well.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s nothing actually wrong with stress in and of itself. It’s a marker, a bit of pressure, that’s all. Your response to said stress can be problematic. And if you cannot distinguish between stress and your response (as is the case for so many people), then that poses the ultimate problem. Fortunately, there is a really simple way to decrease the amount of stress in your life. Simply put: stop trying to do it all!

The tendency to do it all – or to try and do it all – is particularly noticeable in the leaders that surround us. If you consider yourself to be a leader – by virtue of title, role or a combination thereof – you may find yourself in this exact scenario. It may be par for your daily course to take care of everything – pulling together agendas, reminding people of their assignments, checking in on those around you, setting direction for your team, anticipating problems and sourcing solutions for those same problems – this list could probably go on for several paragraphs, if not several pages. Let me tell you right here and now: the tendency to do it all – to hold yourself and yourself alone as responsible for everything – is what is contributing to the increased levels of stress. And it’s got to stop.

Effective leadership is not about being completely responsible for the whole picture. Effective leadership is about sharing responsibility and knowing when to LET THINGS GO. Effective leaders are able to share responsibility – and thereby diminish their sense of stress – while standing solidly at the helm of whatever it is they’re leading.

Can you understand what I’m saying here? If you truly want less stress in your life, then you’ve got to stop being so controlling, you’ve got to stop taking care of everything, and you’ve got to allow others to shoulder some of the responsibility. Another way to think of it is like this: stop thinking that you’re the only one who can do things right. Trust me; you’re not any more perfect than anyone else around you.

Bottom-line: yes, you’re going to have stress in your life. Yes, there will be times that stress feels somewhat overwhelming. And, there is a way to lessen the burden. Simply put: stop trying to do it all, and invite others to share the load. The people in your life are there for a reason; let them share your journey.

HappinessA few weeks ago, I overheard the following exchange while waiting in line to pay at the gas station:

Customer (to cashier, who had been complaining about something):  “You sound like my friend, who says that there’s always something standing  between him and his happiness.”

Cashier: “Well, it’s true. I’m sorry, but it is.”

This perspective on happiness feels completely foreign to me. It’s not how I understand happiness at all. But I recognize that that might just be me, and so I took to my facebook page to see how others viewed happiness. Those who chose to respond generally agreed that the only thing standing between anyone and their sense of happiness was themselves. In other words, happiness is something that is found internally, and can be accessed regardless of external circumstances. I would concur. And, I feel like this requires a bit of explanation.

There are a few things that I think get in the way of people understanding and accessing their own sense of happiness. In no particular, here are some happiness myths that I want to bust:

  1. Happiness depends on things outside of me.  This is not true. Happiness is an internal quality, and exists independent of what things or experiences are present in your life. You can have a lot and be unhappy; you can have next to nothing and be totally happy. Happy is something inside of you.
  2. Happiness is the opposite of emotions such as sadness and anger. Also not true. In my opinion, multiple emotions – including happiness – can coexist. In other words, you can be sad about something, and still be happy overall. You can be angry with someone, and still know that happiness is an overriding quality that you experience.
  3. Happiness means that I’m smiling all the time.  Nope. Smiles can be indicative of happiness. But you can be straight-faced and still be pretty happy. Often as I’m typing away at my computer I’m as happy as a clam, and my face is more likely to be furrowed in concentration than smiling. Doesn’t mean I’m not happy.
  4. Happiness is something that is created.  My experience tells me otherwise. Happiness isn’t something that’s created, it’s something that’s accessed. In other words, I believe that happiness is always present, it’s simply a question of where you’re putting your focus. If you allow yourself to seek out happiness, to experience happiness, to be aware of happiness, you’ll feel it.
  5. Happiness comes and goes.  I disagree. As I say in the last point, I believe that happiness is always present. Period. It doesn’t disappear. You simply get to decide how prevalent an aspect of your experience it’s going to be.

Bottom-line:  happiness is a quality that is present and accessible to you at all times. Happiness is not to be confused with euphoria or ecstasy. Happiness is not dependent on those outside of you, or on external circumstances and conditions. Happiness can coexist with other emotions. Happiness is your birthright and as such, if you’re feeling unhappy, the only thing standing between you and your experience of happiness is yourself. At the risk of being blunt, if you want to feel more happiness, it’s time to get out of your own way.


defensive-employee-behaviorSuccess. It looks different for different people. There are a lot of factors that play into one’s vision and definition of the concept. The bottom line, however, generally includes a solid reputation, doing work you love and achieving the results you desire, whatever those may be.

Success (or the lack thereof) is inevitably a result of decisions made along your own personal journey. Based on your own desired outcome and the information available to you, you will decide to use your skills or outsource to those who have the skills to attain certain results. You will decide to establish certain policies and procedures. You will decide to follow certain schedules and timelines. You will decide to invest in particular individuals and projects. Sound, solid decisions are at the heart of success.

Every so often your decisions don’t land well with others. Perhaps your customers or clients are put out. Maybe your team or staff disagrees with your decisions. Maybe your family is confused by your decision. When others question or otherwise disconnect with your decisions, it is tempting to defend your choice. Some would say that defending your decisions is natural. What I want you to know, however, is that every time you DEFEND your decisions, you undermine your success.

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, when someone questions you, isn’t defending your position normal? Natural? Understandable? Perhaps it is, to some degree. The challenge, however, is that the act of defending is experienced as less than powerful. It actually undermines your credibility to a certain degree.  So often, when you defend something, your emotions kick into hyperdrive and any semblance of grounded, solid decision-making is replaced with something close to raving lunacy.

So, what can you do instead of defending when your decisions are questioned? Two simple things: listen and be grateful.

The ability to listen is the hallmark of a successful individual. Listen to your customers, your clients, your peers, your competitors, your team, yourself. Listening does not mean agreeing, necessarily. It simply means being quiet (don’t talk!), hearing what’s actually being said, taking it in with a view to understanding what you’re being told. You don’t have to change your decision in any way; just listen to what’s being presented to you.

Once you’ve listened to those around you, express gratitude. “Thanks for sharing” – said sincerely and graciously, goes a long way to enhancing and bolstering your credibility, your confidence and in turn, your success.  The individual sharing his or her perspective feels heard, and you don’t come across as needy or over-exuberant in any way.

Bottom-line: if you want to be experienced as a successful individual, leader, business person, teacher, or anything else, you’ve got to stop defending yourself. The act of defending undermines true success, every time. Learn to listen with an open heart, and express thanks to those who take the time to share their thoughts with you. Defense has no part in the successful individual’s toolkit.

couple-on-the-beach“I feel like I need a vacation from my vacation.”  How often have you heard that said?  How often have you yourself said it?  If you’re like most people I know, I’d hazard a guess that this phrase has made an appearance in your life, in one way or another, MANY times.  You go away on vacation to rest, to get away – and perhaps to take in some different sights and experiences – and end up coming back to your regular life exhausted, depleted and not at all rested.  What is that about?

We all need vacations.  At its very core, a vacation is intended to serve two purposes:  first, to rejuvenate and replenish your spirit, often by experiencing a change of pace and scenery; second, to allow you the opportunity to learn a bit about a different culture or environment, depending on the type of vacation you take.

When you plan for a vacation – particularly a vacation “in a foreign land” – what does your planning focus on?  In other words, what are the things you research or build into your itinerary, in order to make your vacation worthwhile?  Having talked to many people about this, and witnessed many clients, colleagues, friends and family engage in the “vacation planning” process, what I know for sure is that you spend a lot of your time planning excursions, tours, visits to historic sites or relatives (sometimes one and the same).  Your planning incorporates a lot of “things to do.”  Your planning does not allow for much time to just “be” which is why you come back from vacation more exhausted than when you left.

If I were to ask you at the outset of your vacation planning, what you hope to get from your time away – or your time off – I know that I’d hear some version of “I just need a break” or “I just need some time to veg out.”  I get it; I understand what it’s like to need to decompress, step away from the demands of the office and replenish your energy stores.  So my question is this:  if your primary objective is rest and rejuvenation, why do you plan so much “busy” time?  Why don’t you plan more days of just sitting poolside, or on the beach, or on the wrap-around-porch, with your eyes closed and soaking up the sun?  Why do you try to DO so much on your vacation?

One of the pitfalls of our society is the compulsion we’ve all got, to constantly be “doing” something.  The danger with this way of thinking, this misguided belief, is that we forget that our bodies, minds and spirits actually need time to rest between times of “doing.”  We forget to spend time “being.”  And so, our vacations end up being filled with more things to do, rather than giving us any time to just be.  Can you see the fundamental mistake in this?

If you really do want to do things on your vacation, by all means, go ahead and do them.  I’m not suggesting for a minute that you miss out on the opportunity to check out the Great Wall of China, or to explore the Mayan Riviera.  What I am asking you to do is get clear on what your goal is for your vacation.  And if getting a modicum of rest is a part of the expectation then make sure you build rest time in to your itinerary.  Your vacation cannot replenish you if you don’t factor replenishing into the equation.

Bottom-line:  get clear and get real about your vacation expectations.   Once you’re clear, plan accordingly.  Make your plans align with your expectations, so that when you get back from vacation, you can talk about how you got what you set out to get, rather than about how much more you need.

alice-with-cheshire-catDirection.  It’s an interesting word to me.  You’re always heading in a direction.  And, you always need a sense of it.  Without direction you actually can’t figure out what it is you’re heading toward.  You’ll still be moving, but you won’t know with what purpose, or to what end.  When it comes to living your life, no matter who you are, how old you are, what your culture or gender, having a direction – a sense of direction – is important.

What I’ve noticed is that children often have a clearer sense of direction than adults.  The direction of children may seem simplistic, trivial, or basic.  No matter how simple it is, however, it’s still a direction, a sense of what they’re moving towards.  Perhaps more importantly, children seem to know intuitively how to deal with the challenges that arise that might require them to course-correct.  It’s as though they have an inner GPS that tells them, “since that way is blocked, go this way instead – if your objective is what you say it is.”  And while children, like adults, have varying degrees of tolerance for life’s obstacles, when it comes right down to it, they know what they want, how to get it and they’re able to maintain a singular focus (yes, even children with ADD can do this).  The question is, how do they do this?  And why are you as an adult less able to do so?

It all comes down to this.  You’ve got the same inner GPS, you’ve just lost your satellite signal, so to speak.  Your satellite signal is your knowledge of what matters in any given moment.  In this world in which you are so inundated with the demands and expectations of others, you’ve allowed your own personal needs, and your sense of what it is that you’re headed towards, to be buried beneath the needs and directions that others put forward. There’s a way that you, in your effort to stay abreast of all that’s happening, keep up with the times, and get everything done that needs doing, have disconnected from your values.  The result? You’ve got minimal sense of direction. 

So, what do you do about it? You go back to the basics, my friend.  If you want to reactivate your inner GPS, if you want to reclaim your sense of direction, you’ve got to reconnect with what matters to you, right here, right now.  This can be a challenge, no doubt about it.  Indeed, it’s what many of my clients end up exploring from time-to-time – what matters in this moment?   In this scenario?  And once you determine that answer, ask yourself what it is that you need to do, or how it is that you need to be, in order to honour that thing that matters right now.

Bottom-line:  to paraphrase the words of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, if you don’t know where you’re heading, then it doesn’t matter what road you take.  If you’re okay with that, if you’re okay with just ending up wherever you end up, then fine.  Keep doing what you’re doing.  But if you really want to fulfill your purpose, then take a moment and get clear on where you’re heading.  Check in with your values, and adjust your direction accordingly.  This will ensure that where you end up, is always where you are meant to be.  Happy travels!

sorryOver the years I, like you and every other person on the planet, have had the opportunity to be on both the giving and receiving end of apology exchanges.  I know this isn’t uncommon.  In western society in particular, apologies are fairly regular occurrences:  apologies for bumping into someone, apologies for misspeaking or interrupting, apologies for being late, apologies for being early – you name it, depending on your perspective, you can probably find a reason to apologize.  Personally, I think that apologies are often over-used, thereby diminishing the power and sincerity that’s necessary to make the apology meaningful.

All that being said, however, the thing that I’m most curious about – the thing that I’ve been curious about for a very long time now – is how we as individuals receive apologies.  Think about it.  What’s the usual response you give when someone apologizes to you for something?  I’ll give you a minute to consider this.  If you’re honest, I’m willing to bet that you generally say some version of “It’s okay” or “Don’t worry about it” if you’re desiring to be gracious; or if you’re really ticked off or hurt, you may respond with some version of “Yeah, okay” or “whatever”.  My sense is that, anyway you slice it, these responses to an apology are inadequate.  So let’s backtrack for a moment and consider the impetus for an apology, before I clarify how I believe one can respond.

Apologies are generally given when an individual has either done or said something wrong, something that hurts another, or something that in some way had him or her fall short of expectations.  Whether it is being late for an appointment, making a snide comment at someone’s expense, or physically injuring another, an apology is an individual’s attempt to

a) acknowledge their mistake or take responsibility, and
b) make amends before moving on. 

So, when you hear an apology being given and you respond with a phrase similar to “that’s okay”, how does this align with the person taking ownership of their mistake?  Let’s get really concrete here to illustrate what I’m talking about.  Imagine that your child has hit a playmate while at the playground.  Knowing that she shouldn’t have done that, she apologizes to her friend, and then hears, “Oh, that’s okay.”  What’s the message?  The child knows – because she’s been taught – that hitting someone else is hurtful.  And yet, her apology is being met with “that’s okay.”  Really?  Is it okay?  I don’t think so.  Such a response certainly doesn’t allow the apologizer to acknowledge their mistake and take responsibility.  It lets them off the hook instead.  Which is a mixed message at the very least.

Similarly, had the injured party in the above scenario responded to the apologizer with a statement such as “Yeah, okay” or “Whatever”, there’s an implication that the apology is not being accepted.  In other words, it doesn’t matter that the first child wants to make amends, the injured child won’t allow it.  That’s the energetic subtext.  Can you see what I’m talking about?  Can you relate to times when you have experienced this disconnect, either as the giver of an apology or as a receiver?

If these typical responses aren’t in alignment with the intention of an apology, how else can you respond?  Well, I believe that there is a really simple response that not only can be, but needs to be, used when someone apologizes.  Simply put, the response that’s required is nothing more and nothing less than “thank you.”  When someone apologizes, and you say “Thank you” the message is simple:  “I accept that you feel badly, I appreciate that you’re trying to make this right.”  And that’s it.  You don’t need to absolve the person of their wrong-doing, you don’t need to make them feel better and you certainly don’t need to make them feel worse.  You just need to meet them where they’re at.  Why?  Because it keeps the interaction clean, clear and honest.  It allows both of you to move past the experience with grace, without any sense of how moving forward might look.  That’s a whole different conversation.  And that, after all, is the point of the apology.

Admittedly, there are additional factors to consider when it comes to apologizing.  For example, someone who repeatedly apologizes but never changes the associated action calls into question the sincerity of the apology.  I mean, it’s not enough to accept responsibility for your behaviour if you’re not going to change that same behavior.  The apology becomes meaningless.  And as a result, it’s challenging to express gratitude for that sort of an apology.  So, when you’re giving an apology for the same scenario over and over again, as the giver of said apology it really behooves you to ask:  what are you apologizing for?  And what are you actually willing to change?

Bottom-line:  apologies are not meant to be taken lightly.  They are not to be given lightly, and they are not to be dismissed readily.  Instead, thought must be given both by the giver and receiver of an apology.  As the giver, know why you’re apologizing and do so with sincerity and commitment to not have to deliver the same apology again.  And when receiving an apology, remember that your job is to do so with grace; express gratitude without either minimizing the hurt or making it bigger than it need be.  An effective apology is about both the giver and the receiver.  Give with sincerity, receive with grace.  This is the way to make apologies work.

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