I once read a great quote, “An apology is the superglue of life. It can fix just about anything.” I don’t know where the quote originated but it became etched in my mind because of its simple truth. A simple “I’m sorry” can improve nearly any situation.
From the time I was a child, I was taught that when I did something wrong or hurt someone else, I should apologize. So, it was a real paradigm shift for me when in nursing school we, and other healthcare professionals, were taught to never apologize as it would imply guilt and set you up for potential lawsuits.
Fault vs. Ownership
When teaching service recovery skills, I occasionally encounter participants who struggle with the apology exercise. They get hung up on fault vs ownership. In service recovery, the main goal is to take ownership on behalf of the organization regardless of fault. This can be difficult for people who have not been exposed to this type of thinking.
During a service recovery class, One student said, “I didn’t do it so why should I say I’m sorry?” He had a hard time thinking of himself as an extension of the organization which made for an interesting discussion. He later shared with me that he was raised in a punitive environment and that to take “blame” meant punishment. It was difficult for him to accept that in his current work environment, the leaders were committed to fostering a blame-free culture to improve safety and achieve zero harm for both patients and staff.
He learned that by shifting his mindset from being “blamed” to owning the patient experience on behalf of his organization, he became empowered and supported.
In an article in Harvard Business Review, author John Coleman shares an interesting perspective. “Often, we have to deal with situations for which we’re not at fault. But fault is backward-looking, and responsibility is forward-looking. Fixating on blame delays taking corrective action and inhibits learning. Focusing on responsibility offers a sense of peace.”
The Power of “I’m Sorry”
As leaders, it is important to pay attention to resistance from our staff. Their resistance may be a result of past trauma. By listening, we can learn and understand. Once we understand, we can frame the discussion differently.
The world might be a different place today if we all brushed up on our apology skills.Customer Service, Patient Experience