Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

I am the proud mother of two toddlers who run to greet me at the door when I get home from work (amazing). Last night, they were both bursting to tell me different versions of the same story. One was sporting a blood-spattered shirt which he had refused to remove before I got home due to the pivotal role it played as a prop in the telling of the story. The other had a distinctly guilty look on his otherwise cherubic face.
My eldest (he of the bloody shirt) launched into the tale of how earlier in the day, they had an argument over a toy which culminated in his younger brother (holder of the coveted toy) into his brother's nose and causing it to bleed. When he was finished, my youngest, the perpetrator looked at me and said: "Well at least I said sorry".

Raising young children provides ample opportunity to teach the seven words of good manners: please, thank you, excuse me and, I'm sorry. We all have these phrases drummed into us as youngsters but when we grow up and make our way into the business world, some of these words become politicized, with meanings and inuendo attached that were never part of the original intention. In the workplace we often hear: "I don't want to say (insert word) because it could be implied as (insert undesired effect here)"

I came across an example of this in a recent news story. A hospital in Winnipeg is adopting a new approach to dealing with errors that take place in the operating room - apologizing to patients. In the case of a senior citizen who experienced pain after a pair of four-inch forceps were left in her abdominal cavity, the surgeon who performed the procedure apologized and hospital staff followed up with their own apology.

One wonders what our world has come to when it is national news that a person who has been wronged receives an apology from the wrongdoer. But those of us in a corporate setting are all too familiar with the legal landmines of the public apology. Malpractice lawyers and company legal departments caution that an apology is as good as an admission of guilt and can open the floodgates for costly lawsuits and class actions.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's decision to issue apologies comes on the heels of new research revealing that patients are actually less likely to sue if they are provided with full disclosure and an apology when issues come to light. In fact, several Canadian provinces and U.S. states have recently passed apology legislation to ensure that any apology offered to patients cannot be used against the health profession in a legal action.

In the story, John Cowell, chief executive officer of the Health Quality Council of Alberta sums up what etiquette advocates have long known: "When you are open and honest, the chance of being sued drops way off." While most of us won't face lawsuits as a result of our daily mistakes and misjudgements, we can easily minimize the fallout by apologizing - quickly and cleanly.

Two words, "I'm sorry", uttered immediately after an infraction, can stop a firestorm in its tracks. When a mistake has been made and there is no apology or visible attempt to take responsibility, things start to simmer, resentment builds and what could have been solved by a simple apology weeks ago is now a level-four crisis.

No matter what their complaint, people need to be acknowledged and they need to be heard. Often that is enough to diffuse a potential crisis.

Now class, who can remember the seven words of good manners?

1 comment:

  1. When any form of medical malpractice happens, you should always approach a malpractice attorney to get the compensation to which you are entitled.