Apologizing for Better Engagement

According to an ancient parable, a king quarrels with his son and in a fit of rage, exiles the son from the kingdom. After a number of years, the king’s heart softens and he sends his ministers to find his son and ask him to come home. But the son resists the invitation. He feels too bitter and hurt to return. When the ministers present the sad news to the king, he sends them out again with a new message: “Return as far as you can and I will come the rest of the way to meet you.”*


Notice that the king doesn’t send an apology with the false notion that those words alone can heal. He also didn’t send his ministers out with a request for forgiveness. “The king is really, really sorry, he hopes you will forgive him.” Instead, the king took action or “performed” his apology by letting his son know he was prepared to travel to meet him as long as it would take. He didn’t ask the son to meet him half-way. Somehow that wouldn’t have been enough. He said, come as far as you can and I’ll meet you. Even if the son can only take one or a few steps, the king is willing to meet him.


Just as improving employee engagement requires action, effective apologizing requires action as well. Do you have any relationships at work or at home that need an apology like this? Unresolved conflict is like an open wound. Left unaddressed, it only gets worse.


  1. Apologizing is a function of self-respect and self-worth.
  2. Choose the relationship over choosing to be right.
  3. Stay curious and perform the apology.


I bring this up today because of discussion in some of my work circles around people suffering from “politics hangover” – anxiety and discord in the workplace that can result in arguments, depression and reduced productivity. Some managers have had to make a statement to staff to refrain from talking about political news and events to maintain civility and productivity in the workplace. Negative feelings against co-workers that go unresolved are toxic to teams and work environments. Don’t let that happen in your area.


If you and your teams are struggling with negativity, feel welcome to contact me for opportunities to reverse the negativity and create a positive spiral.


*Excerpts from Why Won’t You Apologize and the work done by Dr. Brene Brown and Harriet Lerner

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