A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of an article I wrote nearly five years ago that was based off the book The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman. At the time, I had trouble finding a copy of it, but I came across it this morning. Chapman’s book focused on personal (particularly marital) relationships and the importance of making the “right” level of apology to a spouse/significant other. (Being a husband, I am used to apologizing all the time.) I used his ideas (and credited him) by turning them into ways that apologies could be given in a business relationship.
In the book, the authors make the case that, when a mistake is made the victim of the wrongdoing (the person who feels wronged) wants to hear an apology in their “language.”
Any writing in bold print is the exact language used by the authors.
They cite five levels for an apology in personal and business relationships. I’ve taken the basics of their ideas and created my own business examples.
1. Expressing regret: “I am sorry.” In virtually all cases, the authors said people who were wronged wanted the person making the apology to sound sincere. The person committing the error should also express some understanding or empathy of how their mistake, oversight, error, or comments hurt someone, be it intentionally or unintentionally. For example: I recognize that you were counting on receiving that shipment from us yesterday so you could meet the deadlines of your customers by the end of the week. By us being late, you lost credibility with your customers, and that’s our fault.”
2. Accepting responsibility: “I was wrong/Our company was wrong.” Here, the authors make the case that victims don’t want to hear it was someone else’s fault. The victim is talking with you, and to them, you are the company. Don’t pass the buck.
3. Making restitution: “What can I do to make it right?” A goodwill gesture such as a discount, free replacement, or bonus product/service can go a long way to demonstrate your sincerity and remove some of the hurt and anger associated with the wrongdoing on the part of you or your organization.
4. Genuinely repenting: “I’ll try not to do that again.” Customers don’t want errors to be repeated. In fact, they want to know you’ve taken steps to prevent the error from occurring again. Explaining to them how you’ve changed your delivery process to avoid future late deliveries sends the message that you take your mistakes seriously and are working hard to prevent them from happening again. In many cases, the customer will accept an error one time; however, repeated errors followed by only an “I am sorry” response grow old very quickly.
5. Requesting forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?” By asking for forgiveness, you are truly proving your sincerity when you admitted you were wrong. It further indicates the importance you place on the business relationship – in other words, you want to restore the relationship back to where it was before the wrongdoing. Also, asking for forgiveness and receiving a positive response from the victim goes a long way at removing grudges the victim might otherwise hold against you. In short, by asking for forgiveness (and hopefully getting it), you close the loop on the problem. However, it’s important to note that forgiveness is one thing, forgetting is another.