Apologizing the Right Way

It may feel like you are apologizing all the time — for the long wait time, for the incorrect billing, for a simple misunderstanding. Whatever the reason, it’s essential to apologize the right way.

Research from social scientists Roy Lewicki, Beth Polin, and Robert Lount Jr. finds that the most compelling apologies include three distinct elements.

  1. An expression of regret. The first and most basic component of the apology is a sincere expression of regret. And the most basic and straightforward approach is simply to say, “I’m sorry,” followed with the reason for the apology. For example: “I’m sorry you were inconvenienced by this,” “I’m sorry this has been so upsetting,” “I’m sorry you’ve had to call us twice.”
  2. An explanation of what went wrong. Some customers will want all of the details, while others will be satisfied with just a few brief words. But all customers will appreciate honesty over a vague explanation or an attempt to shift the blame. The more valid the reason, the more likely that the customer will be understanding.
  3. An acknowledgment of responsibility. When an error is made, take responsibility for your own actions and for your entire company. Apologies are far more powerful when they are delivered in the first person (“I’m sorry”). After all, to the customer, you — and not some mysterious “we” or “they” — are the company.

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