Sorry is one of the most difficult things to say. Especially so when one is under pressure or the situation is tense. Yet a heartfelt apology can ease the strain and relax an agitated soul.
I am often asked how I cope with ‘difficult’ customers. Customers are likely to get upset, demanding or unreasonable only when a mistake is made and isn’t admitted to especially when excuses are made. My philosophy is that you should never ruin an apology with an excuse. In business should a mistake be made, we will readily admit to the fault and rectify the situation. In framing a common occurrence is the sighting of marks on a picture after it has been framed. Procedures such as noting all blemishes before a painting is sent to the workshop can assist in alleviating miscommunications later. When marks are then spotted, we can communicate effectively with the customer. If a spot is unrecorded we apologize sincerely, and resolve the case.
My most memorable example occurred whilst I was away on a buying trip. A customer left a highly expensive and sentimental lacquer painting with us for framing. A part-time staff member carelessly taped over some of the lacquer and when the workshop removed the tape a discreet marking remained on the painting. I was distressed when I heard the story on my return and made an appointment to meet with the client the next morning. Distracted enough by the events, I found it hard to sleep and the next day I arrived armed with my cheque book and a heartfelt apology. The issue was resolved immediately with an angry customer instantly calmed and appreciative of our sincerity in claiming responsibility. Her admission that she had a lawyer on stand-by only qualified her fear that we would make an excuse and attempt to deny our responsibility.
Giving an excuse rather than an apology is lame and ineffective. It only provokes further debate and doesn’t assist in finding a resolution. As George Washington firmly stated "It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one”.
Excuses cause aggravation and lead to tension. Even the most placid person can be riled when given excuses following a mistake. Yet excuses are a very spontaneous defense to accusations. Restaurant staff with ineffective training and support often fall into the trap of providing their customers with excuses when something goes wrong. This results in an unhappy table of customers, friction in the room and bad word of mouth – a losing situation for everybody.
Excuses can be frustrating even in an amusing moment. I once placed a Kwan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) statue in my apartment and asked my helper not to cook any beef as it is a sign of disrespect. One evening we were eating wanton dumplings and I was skeptical as to whether my instructions had been followed. Questioned, she meekly admitted it was beef, then added, “ But Ma’am it is minced! ”
As a teenager,I was the Queen Of Excuses until my mother seriously reprimanded me. “Why must you fall to the ground and insist on grabbing sand to throw back at me? Do you know that I would respect you more if you were brave enough to own up to your mistakes? Only a coward gives excuses ! ” Then she highlighted, “Right now it is I who does not respect you. However, should you continue to make excuses during your work career you will find that colleagues and managers will also not respect you. When you make excuses and think you have won, you have actually lost.” I was astonished and shaken out of my inherent need to “win ” with excuses. Ever since, when I have been close to offering an excuse, my mother’s pointed finger and sage advice comes to mind. Admitting to a mistake is not easy but the positive consequence is that people are more understanding than I expect.
People make mistakes but this should not be an excuse in itself. In business and in relationships, these mistakes may prove costly. It is a person’s own duty to admit to a fault. When someone is defensive the tendency is to skirt about the issue and waste time before getting to the principle of the matter. Excuses may then lead to arguments, friction and unnecessary stress. Admitting to a mistake or an apology needs to be heartfelt and should not be solely used to escape an argument. Entire chapters of books are devoted to communication and effective tools of interaction. Most important is the need for genuine understanding of a situation from both sides. When it is clear where a fault lays that person needs to find the strength to admit he / she is wrong.
A lot of energy is wasted in finding excuses . Instead, use your energy to put yourself on the line, to grow from your mistakes, to cease blaming others and to move forward with strength. You can’t go wrong if you mean what you say. A heartfelt "I’m sorry" will go a long way to avoid and erase ill feelings of resentment.