Everybody makes mistakes. It’s just part of the human condition. In every workplace, relationships sometimes go off track, causing complaints or hurt feelings, leaving customers feeling disappointed or unhappy. And in some industries, errors can lead to serious, perhaps fatal consequences. When mistakes happen, individuals, teams and organizations reveal their true colors by how they respond. Do they take responsibility? Attempt to make corrections or restitution? Or do they try to deny or whitewash the problem? Maybe even blame the victim?
Open and Honest = Positive and Productive
Admitting mistakes can be humbling and sometimes feel dangerous. But customers and staff expect and deserve to be treated with respect and fairness—which includes honest communication, especially after a hiccup. Most people can understand and live with mistakes, but they won’t tolerate denial. It’s the supreme violation of trust. Through our work with leaders and teams, we know open and respectful workplace cultures make owning up to errors and apologizing for mistakes possible. What’s more, leaders and teams who know how to hold these difficult conversations and apologize effectively:
- Inspire trust by modeling resilience and open, honest communication for staff, customers and suppliers.
- Develop the capacity to re-establish communication and actually expand trust in the wake of mistakes, leading to higher positivity and productivity.
The Effective Apology
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it is a noble and courageous act; it’s also a skill that takes practice and commitment to ensure ideal results. Here’s how to master the art of the effective apology:
- Notice and use your co-workers’ preferred apology language. Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, authors of “The Five Languages of Apology,” note these possibilities: 1. Expressing regret—”I’m sorry.” 2. Accepting responsibility—”I was wrong.” 3. Making restitution—”What can I do to make it right?” 4. Repenting—”I won’t let that happen again.” 5. Requesting forgiveness—”Will you forgive me?”
- Try Debra Schmidt’s (www.theloyaltyleader.com) “LEARN” acronym: Listen to the complaint. Empathize. Apologize. Respond. Notify the wronged party about further developments.
- Openly discuss with your leadership team ideal responses based on the concepts of fair and respectful treatment. Most organizations embed these principles in a statement of customers’ service guidelines.
- Know that disclosure and apologies are good for the bottom line. In this tough economy, experience shows: organizations attract more clients when customers know they’ll be treated courteously and fairly if problems come up; staff morale rises when employees know they can help clients as needed; and people want to be part of an organization that trusts them to say and do the right thing.
Courageous teams—those willing to adjust their attitudes about apologies—empower and propel their organizations toward greater productivity and mission fulfillment. Our job as coaches is to create safe, trustful environments where these courageous conversations can unfold. With skillful facilitation and consistent support, the results can be remarkable. Are you and your team courageous enough to apologize for mistakes?