“I’m sorry.” Two powerful words that can make the difference between building a great or poor relationship. Over the years, I have heard some say that as a business, you should never apologize. Others seem to apologize regularly for anything and everything under the sun. Who is right, and how do you balance the two? Is an apology a sign of weakness or strength? Let’s look at a few examples.
Should Management Apologize?
After a recent Microsoft maintenance gaff on Azure AD that caused authentication issues across multiple services, Microsoft said, “We understand how incredibly impactful and unacceptable this incident is and apologize deeply.” The authentication issue Microsoft had introduced was impactful for many businesses and the apology was warranted. Well done and thank you.
Slack’s CEO recently apologized as well, after customers realized that a new system, called Slack Connect, could be used to send unsolicited direct messages. The communication could have been much better, and when they came to this realization, they owned up to it. Perfect.
Apologies Indicate Maturity and Build Trust
There is nothing wrong with an apology. In fact, admitting you made a mistake speaks volumes about the type of company you are. It can act as a catalyst to help smooth over the relationships you are trying to maintain. Being willing to apologize and make amends shows maturity and a degree of vulnerability. It will lead to greater trust between two parties. Make your apology an opportunity for developing a deeper relationship with your client.
What about when you are not at fault? Should you accept responsibility for something you did not do? Well, not always, but situations vary, and at times, being the one to apologize can be effective in helping a team move forward. Years ago, I was working on a technology team supporting a broad user base spread across different offices. A system outage caused business disruptions that made our web-based platform unusable. The business was very frustrated, and given the nature of the outage, it was unclear what team was to blame. Was it networking, server management or application support?
On a heated call with a large group of business users, the VP over our team spoke up. He apologized for the disruption, let the business know we understood how disruptive this issue had been and assured them we were looking into the matter. I later caught up with him, and asked why he had apologized as none of our team’s actions had led to the service disruptions. He gently pointed out that it was because sometimes all someone wants to hear is, “I’m sorry.”
In the end, he was right. Issuing an apology helped to instantly deescalate the situation. We were able to begin focusing on solving and triaging the situation rather than focusing on what had initially happened. His apology defused the situation and allowed for everyone to move toward solutions.
While broadly and frequently issuing an apology for anything that happens is not recommended. However, using those special keywords “I’m sorry” when appropriate will help you get past the noise and initial frustration of a situation, and it can be incredibly effective. Learn to issue apologies when appropriate, and be a part of the solution. You will find your relationship with your clients growing ever stronger.
Jared Knisley is Managing Partner at Fizen Technology, Legendary IT Support for Business.