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In Business, Love Means Learning to Say You’re Sorry

Sure, we all like to talk about the new trend toward transparency in the corporate world, but when a company messes up, the old watch-your-back, cover-your-tush, and shift-the-blame-to-someone-else mindset tends to kick in. The bigger the mistake, the more the spinners spin, desperately looking for a way to turn a negative into a positive, or at least a neutral.

Sure, we all like to talk about the new trend toward transparency in the corporate world, but when a company messes up, the old watch-your-back, cover-your-tush, and shift-the-blame-to-someone-else mindset tends to kick in. The bigger the mistake, the more the spinners spin, desperately looking for a way to turn a negative into a positive, or at least a neutral.

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Wouldn’t it be refreshing if more companies tried what Harvard Medical School’s major teaching hospitals are considering: Teaching their staff to immediately disclose and openly apologize for mistakes, and offer compensation for expenses related to the mistake?

Refreshing, it might be, but isn’t that just inviting trouble?

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Not really — in fact, the results tend to be pretty good. For example, Colorado’s largest malpractice insurer, COPIC, started a disclosure-and-apology program in 2000. For doctors participating in the program, malpractice claims have dropped 50 percent, and settlement costs have gone down 23 percent over the past five years. Other healthcare systems have noted similar results when they instituted a disclosure policy.

Instead of living in a John Wayne’s world of “never apologize and never explain,” we now live more in a Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” society, and hiding behind a legal and PR firewall hasn’t worked too well for companies on the hot seat recently. So if you or your company make a mistake, consider apologizing from the heart and making amends–and getting it right the next time. Your customers will love you for it (or at least, they may not be as likely to sue you).

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