Thursday, September 30, 2010

Say You're Sorry

“I’m sorry.  It was my fault.  I know that my mistake caused you trouble and I am going to do everything possible to fix the issue.  I’m sorry.”  Are these familiar words?  Maybe not, if you work in the corporate world.  In many companies, the prime directive is to cover up and deny blame.  I contend this is not the best path.

Several recent studies showed a strong correlation between reduced lawsuits against hospitals and medical personnel, when in the face of a patient care error, a sincere and specific apology was offered to the injured party.  Similarly, I suggest that when we, either as individuals or as a company, do harm, it is not only good for the soul, but imperative to our career that we apologize.  Doing this in conjunction with our best effort to remediate the mess, will go a long way in preserving our end user’s trust and good will.  Let’s take a look at the steps in salvaging a bad situation.

First, stop the bleeding!  Before anything else, correct the problem, if you can.  Get the user back online, patch the driver so it stops blue screening the server farm, fix the misspelled name of the VP of Quality Control on the website.

Second, sincerely and specifically apologize.

Do:  “John, I’m very sorry that our patch caused your workstation to lockup and that you had to stay late to finish your presentation because if it.”
Don’t:  “John, I’m sorry if you felt inconvenienced by the attempted patch.”

Third, tell the injured party what you plan to do to prevent the problem from happening again.

Do:  “John, to help prevent a bad situation like this from happening again, we’ve added a mandatory, second testing step for all patches before they are pushed out.”
Don’t:  “Wow!  Sure hope that never happens again.”

I know that most of you and your teams never make mistakes, but unfortunately, I’ve had plenty of practice in honing my apology skills.  Your Mom and your kindergarten teacher were both right; saying “sorry” has amazing power.  Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

1 comment:

  1. I 100% agree, I come at this from the view that I know I make a small number of mistakes and so I don't mind putting my hands up when they occur. We're human.

    What I always promise is that I'll never make the same mistake twice. In my view that's all you can ever expect of a person/people. I value humility and think that it shows honesty.

    Internally this is all pretty easy, for a corporate however liability is a bitch.


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