“SORRY” Has Become A Four-Letter Word
An profound and prolific apology after a colossal foul-up or political disaster has become an actual perfunctory insult to the offended or wronged parties. It sounds insincere, feels weak and needy, invites other questions (and other concessions) and makes you look foolish. In brief, it can kill or negotiations and actually sabotage your customer relationships. No one says this better than author and success coach, Oren Klaff of “Pitch Anything”. The idea is to just work right past the error or gaffe and move forward, selling more strongly than ever. The text that follows comes from a recent email sent to me by Oren [I've left all of the grammatical and syntax errors intact, for which I make no apologies]:
Although, I thought that was HILARIOUS at the time ... no one laughed. There was just some uncomfortable coughing and a few chairs shuffled.
My first reaction was to apologize, so my mind starting forming the words, “ ... uhh, sorry about that ..."
But my training kicked in, and I told myself: Keep moving forward, don’t explain yourself, do not act ‘needy’ or seek validation.
Ok, sure, I know that apologizing is necessary when we’ve clearly hurt someone else, violated a rule, or done something we know to be wrong. And saying sorry is a necessary step in some situations to repair the social fabric that keeps us connected to other people.
But in business, a gushing apology can be exactly the wrong move.
For example, WE ALL want to keep our clients happy, so it can be tempting to say “sorry” for things that get off track —
- but It’s important to recognize that apologizing unnecessarily can actually undercut your professionalism by displaying neediness and diminishing others’ confidence in you.
It reminds me of the other day when a CEO called and asked if he could see me. He had a serious problem, so we booked a meeting.
That’s how every week starts for me. Like an episode of SUITS, at 9am Monday, some kind of trouble walks through the door and I have 24 hours to save the client’s company or The Senior Partners Will Be Very Mad.
This client shuffled his way into my waiting room, downcast and dejected.
His shoulders slumped. He was in big trouble. When a guy looks like that, it’s either a woman problem or a money problem and given my track record, people usually don’t want my advice on women.
He told me what had happened at his company. His servers had crashed during a live event. Customers lost money.
“I have to go on the road and give my largest customers a personal apology,” he said, “or I’m going to lose a lot of business.”
“Tell me what you plan to say,” I said. ”Let me hear your pitch.”
And then came the El Niño of Bad Ideas:
He was going to apologize for a flaw that made the servers crash;
He was going to give discounts; and refunds.
And he planned to use the history of his relationship with the client, like Sal Tessio in The Godfather.
Sal Tessio: Can you get me off the hook, Tom? For old times' sake?
Tom Hagen: [shakes his head] Can't do it, Sally.
[Tom watches sadly as Sal is led to a waiting car]
Obviously, Sal was killed in that scene; as my client would get killed if he pleaded for forgiveness.
So, when he was done pouring his heart out, I poured him a cup of something strong and let him sip it slowly, preparing him for what I would say next:
There will be No Discounts. No Refunds. No Sob Story. “In fact,” I said, “you’re going to visit the customers, give them ONE quick and sincere ‘sorry’ and then upsell them to a higher level of service.”
His eyes opened wide.
I told him, when you highlight and dwell your own mistakes you trigger the Recency Effect — the tendency to blow things that have just happened out of proportion.
In the business world, apologies, explanations, not to mention sappy pleas for mercy do nothing but stir up emotions and anger. My client needed to focus on the future.
First, I told this this CEO to read my book, PITCH ANYTHING. On page 157 I show that offering discounts and acting needy will actually harm a business relationship more than it helps.
Look, even your toughest clients will agree, the past is a done deal. It’s gone. Dust. They will accept that now is the time to turn over the Etch-a-Sketch and give it shake, wipe the slate clean.
Why You Should Only Give a Single Brief Word of Sorry After a High-Profile Mistake
No matter how sincere, your mea culpas can come off sounding empty. Only by taking the right action can you repair your broken reputation.
Consider for a moment, what do Charlie Sheen, Anthony Weiner and Tiger Woods all have in common?
They all apologized right after a major personal crisis.
I believe, in the US, this type of apology has become so cliché, it's lost all its credibility, because In short, we don't buy post-crises apologies anymore.
Here’s my four-point plan for cleaning up after a any mistake:
1. Write a one-paragraph Big Idea nods to the mistake, but talks about the future. Then memorize it. Here’s an example:
Today’s servers are the most complex devices man has ever invented. They move terabytes of data in microseconds, and we humans have come to rely on them. Or perhaps the word is OVERRELY, for they are machines and they can fail. In fact, these failures are a right-of-passage for any fast growing company, letting them know, it’s time to upgrade, improve and invest in more infrastructure than ever before ...
2. No one expects you to be perfect. Accurately describe what new systems or procedures you're installing as soon as possible and sell the client that new level of service.
3. Pitch the client like you would a new account. Don’t count on their goodwill, just their desire to buy great service at a fair price from a good company. Give a CLEAR description your new improved level of service. If you need best pitch your industry has ever seen, jump over to Pitch Mastery, I’ll make sure you get it done.
4. Get professional help. If you find yourself in a “situation” where you’ve really messed up and first three steps above aren't enough to tamp-down the crisis, enlist the support of a credible third-party professional who knows how to build a script to handle this kind of situation. The president has a script writer, so do Fortune 500 CEO’s and franchise athletes ... you’re no less important and you should have one too.
Whatever you do, best not expect a gushing apology to work. We live in a jaded, cynical society that has had its fill of sketchy executives, politicians, celebrities and athletes. So truly, a modern crisis means never having to say you're sorry. It means MORE than that: fixing your act, communicating the fixes as they're done and then quickly reestablishing your reputation.
Don’t wait to learn how to handle yourself until you’re in a tight situation. If you haven’t already, buy PITCH ANYTHING now. And do sign up for a free trial of Pitch Mastery.
Forward this email to anyone you think might benefit from it, so they can get on our mailing list.
I have to run, another client just walked in the door, he’s wearing thick glasses and has a large computer. I’m not sure what the problem is here, but I'll bet it's hard to pronounce.
See you next week when I cover the right way to start of any presentation (things I learned the hard way).
=> The Takeaway: Don't apologize unless you've truly hurt someone personally, lest you appear weak and incompetent. Take a lesson from the universally disliked (but desperately envied and admired) Donald Trump. Don't get caught in the quicksand of an apology. Don't make it into an issue. Don't spend time falling into the trap of back peddling.
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Thank you, as always, for reading me,
Douglas Castle for Global Edge International Consulting Associates, Inc. and The Global Edge International Blog
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