Why are we scared of sorry?

Two hands offering single flower

What makes it so hard for us to apologise?

Is it pride? Fear? Or as I have often heard, because it is an admission of guilt?

Perhaps a combination of all three.

The last reason one seems quite pervasive in customer service roles, where a I suspect a reluctance to apologise stems from a desire to avoid compensation at all costs*.

True, there is a risk of devaluing the word sorry if it is overused. It can lead to a feeling of helplessness on one side and of annoyance on the other.

Last year we were travelling abroad and our train was delayed. We were kept waiting for several hours. That was unacceptable so we complained.

The response, via email, arrived a couple of days later. After a formal salutation, the first few words were:

“Thank you for your email.

I am very sorry…”

The remainder of the first paragraph summarised the cause of our problem (the delay) and expressed an understanding of the impact that it had on our trip.

The next two paragraphs explained that we would have our ticket refunded in full and a voucher that we can use on a subsequent booking.

Only then was there an explanation of the cause of the delay. It was detailed enough to provide the multiple factors and the steps taken to rectify the problem.

The structure:

  • Gratitude
  • Apology
  • Empathy
  • Solution
  • Explanation

The result? We remain happy customers and will continue to use the service.

The company? https://www.eurotunnel.com/uk/home/

*I remain open to anyone who can provide documented evidence of situations that have been made worse by a sincere and genuine apology.

Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

Problem solving with digital watches

…most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

At a few times each year, a digital watch is handed to me with a request for it to be set to the current time. British Summer Time, GMT or some far flung timezone the trigger event. The owner of the watch does not know how to do it and despite several attempts, can not change the time.

But I don’t know how to complete this task.

I don’t do it frequently enough for it to be worthy of a place in my memory.

From an L&D perspective this should be a suitable case for a resource. A short set of instructions for me to follow to set the new time.

Yet it is typically completed in less time than it would take to search for and read such a guide.

So how would you develop someone to be able to do a task or solve a problem without having seen it before?

What I think I do is look for patterns:

  • One of the buttons will make one of the digits flash
  • One of the buttons will make a different digit flash
  • One of the buttons will change the digit
  • One of the buttons will stop everything flashing

Is four steps enough? Probably not. There are a few alternatives or exceptions that should be encountered:

  • It might be necessary to hold a button longer to achieve the desired result
  • Holding a button longer may make undesirable things happen
  • Not pressing any button may make everything stop flashing
  • Rather than a single press it may be necessary to press two buttons at once

Is that sufficient?

Again, probably not. Some personal attributes are necessary:

  • Be able to endure a number of failed attempts
  • To have good short term memory to prevent repeating unsuccessful patterns
  • To be motivated to compete this task with no expectation of reward

Finally, none of this would work without a well designed user interface. Because even though I can do this with the digital watch, twice a year the cooker is reset by the watch owner following the manual.

Can you do everything?

Pint of beer on wooden bar

My first job was behind the bar in a country hotel.

My boss was very proud of being able to do any job in the place – he could join me serving food & drinks, he could and did make up the rooms, cover shifts in the kitchen, wether as chef or washer up and he’d drive the minibus to take regular customer home after a long and enjoyable evening. If anyone was off sick he would step in without fuss.

That ethos stuck with me for a long time – that the manager should be able to step in and do the job of anyone they are responsible for.

It was many years later that I found myself working in a team where all of us had amassed a great deal of technical knowledge in our respective areas of expertise. We had been hired as trainers based on our prior professional experience.

After one leadership restructure, we noticed our new manager couldn’t do any of our roles. Not one.

And they were great.

Supportive, challenging and focused on our development and our results but they couldn’t do what we did. Yet it wasn’t significant.

Understanding the people and the roles of those you are responsible for is vital. Being able to do their job is not.


Picture credit: Photo by mnm.all on Unsplash

About me

This is a place that I can use to share thoughts that interest me. The likely topics are related to my work in Learning and Development or my outside interests, mostly travel.