The power of an apology, with or without cake
When conflict arises, the best course of action is to tackle the issue head on, and apologize when warranted
An Ohio firefighter recently received an unusual gift from a local police officer: a cake with a frosting inscription that read, “Sorry I tased you.”
The firefighter was shocked by the officer’s TASER while the two were attempting to restrain a patient on a medical call. The firefighter was not seriously hurt.
Still, if you talk to anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of being TASERed, they will tell you that it’s not nothing, either.
Apologizing is the first step to conflict de-escalation
The fact that the firefighter was TASERed was an accident, obviously. But the light-hearted apology (the cake also featured a frowning face) went a long way toward preventing any bad feelings that might have resulted from the incident.
You can imagine how such an event could develop differently. A police officer accidentally TASERs a firefighter during a call. But, in this scenario, imagine that the police and fire departments don’t have a good relationship, that members don’t regularly communicate with one another and that there may even be bad blood due to confrontations in the past. Now an accident with a TASER might be seen as more than purely accidental – careless, perhaps, or even malicious.
Add to that scenario a lack of acknowledgment of fault or apology, and you can see how a purely circumstantial accident could become a real issue between two agencies.
But that did not happen in this case, and the sincere apology is the place to start when doing damage control.
Communication fosters close relationships
Firefighters live and work in close quarters with one another. There are infinite opportunities to bother another person without intention. Sometimes these conflicts arise because of innate differences among people – different tastes in music, food, television shows or jokes. Sometimes people make mistakes and eat someone else’s food or forget to complete a task in the station they were supposed to do.
In all these cases, the first line of defense against conflict is a rapid and sincere apology.
You just told someone a joke they didn’t like, and they let you know it? Apologize, convey there was no malicious intent in it and let them know it won’t happen again. If you mean it and follow through, that will be the end of the issue.
You forgot to complete the inventory that was due today? Admit your fault, apologize and offer to make it up to the person who had to do your work.
The fact that some incidents escalate is often because people who are in the wrong cannot admit it. If someone doesn’t like the joke you just told, they assume it is the other person’s problem for being too sensitive. If someone is mad about having to pick up your slack, they are jerks because they don’t recognize how many times you have cleaned up after them over the years.
If de-escalation of small conflicts is the goal – and it always should be – then getting defensive, attempting to justify, or blaming the other person are all strategies that will simply make things worse.
If you’re wrong, if you make a mistake – and we all do – then just admit it, apologize and move on. That’s what happened with the TASER incident, and the outcome was a more solid relationship between two agencies instead of potential bad feelings and lingering friction.
A photo shows the police officer, the firefighter and the cake, with the caption: “All of us at HTPD appreciate the incredible relationship we have with our FD/EMS!!! #Brotherhood #SameTeam.”
This is a good outcome for a bad event. But, it didn’t just happen out of thin air. Someone had to make the effort to step up and say, “I’m sorry.”