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When to say sorry

In politics at the moment, it seems to be standard practice to deny a mistake happened, and to never apologise. Fortunately, in business we’re better than this, and most of us will end up saying sorry at one time or another.

If we’re in any doubt about whether to send customers an apology, we should ask ourselves these questions:

  • Did we inconvenience or offend our audience?
  • Will they be expecting a correction?
  • Will they think better of us if we say sorry?

You can see now why politicians don’t feel the need to apologise. More often than not, they would (cynically) answer all of the questions above with a ‘no’. However, I think that in business, most of us would be inclined to default to ‘yes’ – perhaps unnecessarily.

If our mistake really didn’t matter much, our customers might find an apology irritating. If it’s likely to come as a surprise, and they really don’t care, perhaps the politicians have a point, and we’re better off just moving on.

However, if we do decide to say sorry, it’s essential to own the problem. Nobody wants to hear our excuses – although if we’ve caused someone inconvenience, they won’t be too upset to hear if we’ve suffered even more.

Contrary to popular belief, people don’t always want compensation; contrition is fine if they can be assured it won’t happen again. Sincerity and empathy are everything.