. . . accountability does. Apologies are weak; accountability is strong. Apologies are depressing; accountability is uplifting. Apologies usually feel insincere; accountability feels honest and trustworthy.
“We’re sorry for the delay.” “We’re sorry to keep you waiting, your call is important to us.” “Please forgive the inconvenience, we are under construction.” “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this.” “Please excuse me, but I only found out yesterday that I was to speak to you.” We’ve heard all of this many times. These phrases have lost any true meaning they may have had. They don’t make us feel better and they don’t make the situation any more acceptable.
Many years ago, I was taught in the Dale Carnegie Course that you should never begin a talk with an apology. They were very clear about this: it didn’t make you look good, it didn’t make the audience feel better and it didn’t prepare them to embrace what you were about to say. “Just start your talk” was the advice; be enthusiastic about what you are saying and tell them the benefits of what they are about to hear.
Accountability is the opposite of apology. It is proactive, responsible and empowering. It says: “I own this” – “I am going to do what is right” – “I care about what happens.” When we hear someone being accountable, we are relieved, we are reassured and we begin to relax. We have great trust that things will be taken care of and our needs will be met.
We experienced a great example of this as we were building our new Free Enterprise Warriors website. We had reached the final stages of site design, and we told them we wanted the final steps taken care of “ASAP.” They then turned the site on and redirected Internet traffic to it. That created a period of time in which people couldn’t find us and then took them to our site that wasn’t yet ready.
When we let them know of the problem, we immediately got a call from Chad Johnson, one of the co-founders of Agent Evolution (our web design provider), who said they had not followed their own protocol, that this was a serious error and that it would be corrected immediately. Then, he thanked us for letting him know since they would now add a step in their process that would prevent this from happening in the future. He did what he said he would do, the problem was corrected and we felt well taken care of. Our respect for Chad and his company was increased. He did not apologize; he took ownership and got it taken care of.
Last week, Laurie and I were having lunch at Turley’s Restaurant, here in Boulder. Our waiter brought us the wrong check and then did not return to our table for a long time. So, I went looking for him and met a woman who seemed to be the manager. I told her about the issue. She smiled and said “I’ll take care of this and thanks for letting me know. Your lunch is on us.” I was astounded; no excuse, no apology – just a thank you and a very positive correction. I guess there is such a thing as a free lunch – at least at Turley’s. When I expressed my appreciation and asked her name, she said “I’m Sandy Turley, my husband and I own this restaurant, and we truly appreciate your business.” I believed her, not just because she said it but because of how she handled our situation.
Accountability means you own the problem, you find the solution and you take care of what the other person needs. When that is the mindset and when that is how things are handled, apologies aren’t necessary.