As most New Englanders can be found doing during the summer months, I was enjoying some sun at the beach last weekend when I witnessed an event, courtesy of a 7 year-old, that even senior executives could learn from.
I watched as the aforementioned boy finished removing his brand new shovel from its packaging and began feverishly digging in the sand. In one swift motion, a giant shovelful of dry sand went flying into the air and… all over a nearby sunbather.
Well, as you can imagine – this woman was a little less than thrilled.
The boy’s mother immediately jumped up and grabbed the shovel from her son. Back at their blanket, she could be overheard telling the boy to go over to the now sand-covered and agitated woman and apologize… a task the small child wanted no part in. After several minutes, when it became clear that the little boy would not willingly go over and apologize for his mistake, his mother approached the woman and apologized on his behalf. The “victim” of the situation accepted the apology but clearly remained very aggravated with the whole situation.
This got me thinking. Did this little boy happen to find the surliest woman on the beach? Possibly… but unlikely. It seemed to be something else. Something preventable.
My guess (and that’s exactly what this is) is that the reaction – or lack thereof – to the situation contributed greatly to her frustration. First and foremost, the apology and admittance of wrongdoing was not immediate. BIG MISTAKE. People know when they have been wronged – and you know, just as quickly, when you have done something wrong. So why the delayed response? It leads people to believe that you are trying to gauge reactions, to see if you can get away with it. This is never a good thing… it lacks character. Secondly, the wrong person apologized. Yes, like it or not, moms do typically act as agents for their children – but there is a time and place. In this instance, the apology should have come from the little boy whose feet suddenly seemed glued to his family’s blanket. Apologies are most sincere when they come straight from the source.
The lesson here – applicable to senior executives, small business owners and children on the beach alike – is to take responsibility for mistakes. Act quickly, be sincere and make the apology count. You have only one chance to do it right. If that means that the CEO is the one to swallow his/her pride and say, “I’m sorry” to a customer, client, or employee, that is what needs to happen. People know when they deserve an apology… and they can tell the difference between someone who says it and someone who actually means it.
Written by RLA Associate Meghan Vincent. For follow up, Meghan can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org