Posted by: johnocunningham | July 18, 2011

The Power of Apology

Fortune magazine recently called Dov Seidman “the hottest adviser on the corporate virtue circuit.” Seidman carved his reputation as the head of LRN, a company that helps businesses toward greater success by focusing on “how” they do things. He also authored a compelling book based on his experiences, entitled, “How: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything.”

I had the chance to interview him a few years ago about corporate ethics and one of the subjects he raised was the power of admitting mistakes and correcting them. He admitted that he and a prospective client had gotten off to a rotten start because they essentially “failed to humanize one another.” As he put it, “in business people see each other as human doings, not human beings.”

But they became long-time friends, business associates and allies after an apology and reconciliation.

When I recently read a piece about saving or even strengthening business relationships with an apology, I was reminded of another anecdote from his book about the power of apology.

Seidman noted how the University of Michigan hospital  system changed its practices in the last decade to encourage doctors to say “I’m sorry” when a mistake was clearly made in patient care.

All professionals, even the best, can make a mistake or choose a strategy or procedure that produces a less than optimal result. But legal counselors ridiculed this strategy of apology as “professional suicide.”

Of course, the apologies were carefully worded, but in the three years following this new approach, med mal claims and lawsuits against the system dropped nearly 50 percent, as did total malpractice litigation costs.

Sometimes, what people want most from you is just an admission that you are human and you will try to correct your mistakes so that they are not repated. Professional service providers who can do this will not only improve their relationships, they will improve the image of their professions.

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