Okay let’s face it, we all make mistakes. And a heartfelt apology is often the only thing we can do to avert further issues with personnel and personal relationships. I’ve been in business for a long time. I’ve certainly seen my share of mistakes and disasters that caused serious damage to client relationships and branding positions. I’ve even been the cause of a few.
Yesterday, in the middle of one such issue with one of my suppliers I was reminded of a few things I’ve learned about apologies along the way. In the course of just a few hours my supplier offered “sincere apologies” and asked for my “continued patience” three times. Each time she used those phrases in an email I got more angry and frustrated.
Because there are times when an apology is appropriate and times when it’s not. Here are three tips for when and when not to apologize.
1 – Do Apologize the Minute You Recognize Even the Potential for Error
At this point you’re making a pre-emptive strike. Nobody else may have even noticed something was wrong and honestly it might be nothing. You are preparing people for the worst and taking the opportunity, while there is enough good will to bring people over to your side. You’re going to need these people to be your advocate while you work through any crisis that may be coming. By apologizing before a crisis hits you’ve made people aware of what’s coming and given them the opportunity to take steps to protect themselves and get them on your team to help you fix it.
2 – Don’t Apologize During the Crisis
This is not a time for flowery words of encouragement or a time for “please remain patient and accept my sincere apologies for the continued delay.” Your job has nothing to do with apologizing for a disaster when you are in the middle of it. Your job is to fix it, nothing more nothing less. Depending on the depth of the issue the time it takes for you to apologize is taking precious time and attention away from your search for a solution. Hire additional customer service staff to apologize for you if you must or put a generic, “we’re sorry for the inconvenience on your website or voice mail” and then get to work.
Talk is cheap the real apology at this point is in the action and results. Do provide periodic updates on your progress, but don’t apologize, you are working too hard for that and people will respect you more for it.
3 – Do Apologize Once the Crisis Has Been Handled and The Solution Found.
Now is the time to save face. Explain what happened, what you did to fix it and describe the steps you’ve taken to ensure it never happens again. Keep your apology brief and to the point though, again, talk is cheap, people want to know the solution and the preventative steps you’ve taken not how badly you feel.
This advice may sound harsh to some of you. I’m sorry, (not really) but the reality is that people are selfish. Nobody cares how badly you feel about your mistakes. They only care about how it affects them and what you are doing to make their lives easier. Keep your apologies, short and stay focused on the solutions, not the problems. In the end people will respect you for it.
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