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Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

We all make mistakes.  It’s how we react to mistakes that separate the professionals from the hacks.  That’s why I loved Jay Shepherd’s Small Firms, Big Lawyers: Sorry About This Post.

Shepherd gives 8 points of advice:

  1. Own the mistake
  2. Say “I’m sorry”
  3. Don’t make you sorry conditional
  4. Don’t be defensive
  5. Offer a brief explanation, but not an excuse
  6. Fix the mistake as best you can
  7. Offer something more
  8. Follow up afterward

I’d add to this that you learn a lot about your relationship with your clients when a mistake occurs.  As someone who has made mistakes, I’ve learned that when you follow Shepherd’s advice, clients are very forgiving.  I’d only add to his list that if you discover a mistake that they haven’t – reveal and own that mistake as well.

Sounds risky, but it actually strengthens the trust.  Your reasonable clients recognize immediately that they can trust you.  With most business owners, that’s half the battle.  They don’t want surprises.  Be dependable in good times and bad times.

Obviously, mistakes should be a rare occurrence.  I’m not advocating sloppy work – and if mistakes are happening often, it means you should engage in some serious self-evaluation.

But when a mistake does occur – do a gut check, prepare to eat crow, follow the steps above, learn from the experience and emerge a stronger organization.

On a side note, the question “Describe for me a time when you’ve made a mistake, how you handled it and how you learned from it and avoided similar mistakes going forward” is a favorite interview question.  Those who respond that they haven’t made any mistakes are lying.  Those who describe a mistake and then pin the blame elsewhere – well, a red flag goes up.  Those who honestly admit to a mistake and indicate that they’ve learned from it – immediately have my trust.  Because we’ve all made mistakes.

Trust is the bottom line.


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