I love a grand old apology. Not a half assed one, or an obsequious one, or an insecure one, but a straight up, yeah, I messed up, I take responsibility and I’m truly sorry apology. One that you actually believe, then accept, then move on from. Hopefully quickly. I love that Obama is apologizing for the wholly terrible launch of healthcare.gov. It takes strength to own your mistakes instead of deflecting them with excuses. Do I feel slighted by the bad launch? Am I angry that I can’t keep my old, washed up health care coverage? No. I understand the predicament. I even empathize with the development teams who were probably victims of bad process, poor management and any number of unrealistic expectations / timelines / requests. But I respect the man for laying the failure out on the table. I hope that as a result, we can release the resentment and move forward.
Isn’t it nice to stop pretending that we always know what we’re doing? The best of us make mistakes. Let’s identify what went wrong, take responsibility, commit to doing better in the future, apologize to the people affected and then let that shit go.
Knowing when to apologize and when to stand my ground can be a tricky thing, especially in working relationships.
I consider myself to be a polite person, but I don’t apologize lightly. Do I apologize when I present work and I know there’s something that could have been slightly better? Never. Do I apologize when I make a few typos that require an extra round of revisions that I turnaround right away? No. Do I apologize when I’m a day or two late delivering on a self-imposed deadline? Not usually. Do I apologize when a large print run of brochures made it out the door with a typo that I, along with the entire team, missed? Absolutely.
I try to be as confident, as detail-oriented and as reliable as possible. But I’m one person, and I can’t guarantee perfection. Clients need to understand that, so I don’t encourage expectations of iron-clad precision by apologizing for every little thing. And when the occasional epic fail happens, I try to face it, own it, deal with it and then move on.