At some point in your professional career, you will make a mistake and you will do something that ends up causing serious inconvenience or harm to the people you are working for. In these circumstances, I see people default into one of two different attitude, make it right or make it go away.

Making it go away entails doing the least possible to get the person in front of you to stop complaining. Shift the blame, absolve responsibility, offer enough to restore the situation to the status quo.

Making it right entails doing enough that the person in front of you goes away satisfied and this is much more rarely seen.

The first step of making it right is owning up and it goes something like this:

You’re right, I’m sorry, I should have…

Each of these 3 components is essential. The “I should have” is important because it communicates to the other person that you understand the scope of the problem and what needs to be done to fix it. It allows both parties to come to an agreement over the extent of the grievance.

But too many people think that just owning up is enough to make it right. It’s not, owning up is cheap and just owning up by itself is merely an advanced form of making it go away. The next step is to remove the hurt.

You did something wrong, it’s not the end of the world but you did hurt someone. Merely restoring things back to the status quo does not remove the hurt. Instead, you need to transfer the hurt onto your shoulders and show that the consequences for your mistake hurt you more than it hurt them.

If your site had half an hour of downtime, don’t just give people half an hour of credit, give them 2 days of credit. If you make a mistake on your billing, don’t just refund the discrepancy, write off the entire section you billed them for. If you accidentally wipe all of their personal data from your servers, well, you’re pretty screwed, I have no idea what you should do.

The only way to remove the hurt is to show people that you’re equally as motivated as them for the hurt never to happen again. This is the only way you can restore trust in someone that you won’t be making the same mistake again.

This is great, you might be thinking. Making it right sounds like some noble, code of honor type shit which only an idiot would not want to follow. But making it right is also fucking hard as well. It requires an extraordinary level of effort to keep yourself at the standards that are imposed by making it right. I personally think that making it right is important enough to strive towards those standards but understand that it’s not something that can be undertaken lightly.

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