One of the questions I like to ask applicants I am interviewing for my firm is ‘have you ever made a mistake?’ Many struggle to come up with an answer. They hem and they haw. That can be a deal breaker for me. I need to know that you know that you are not perfect. I also need to know that when things happen – and things always do – you are going to be able to handle it professionally. Hubris and ego are not conducive to healthy client or colleague relationships.
I can think of 5 mistakes I made this week alone. Making mistakes is natural…to err is human and all that. But it’s what we do with our mistakes that is most telling about who we are as professionals and as people.
First, acknowledge your mistakes. Now depending on your field of practice, you may want to consult with your professional insurer first, but ultimately most people who have been on the receiving end of the mistake just want validation that they have been heard, that you acknowledge that an error has been made, and that you care about them.
Next, offer a sincere apology. The sincere part is key. Offering a hollow apology is meaningless. As Canadians, we utter the words ‘sorry’ often as we go about our day, but when you have made an error, you need to express your true feelings of regret. I recall my son’s nursery school teacher saying that parents should not focus so much on getting an apology from a child when they have done something wrong because an empty apology is meaningless. It is better for them to understand how their actions have impacted the other party. Being able to put yourself in the injured party’s shoes is called empathy. What if you had been wronged? What would be a fair outcome for both sides? When children are faced with those questions, they are far more likely to say sorry, and really mean it.
And don’t say “I’m sorry if you felt that way” or “I am sorry that my actions made you feel…”. That drives me crazy. Those types of apologies just sound like you are humoring their sensitivities. It is far more sincere and authenticate to say “I am sorry. I made a mistake.” It’s not in their head – you did something wrong and you need to own it.
Finally, provide some possible solutions for resolution. Whenever I make a mistake, I acknowledge it, I apologize for it, and then I come to the table with some suggestions for how I can fix it. I try and provide a couple of options so that I can work with the injured party to correct the mistake or at least mitigate the damage.
Being able to acknowledge that you are imperfect, being able to provide examples of a time when you made a mistake, and providing tangible learning opportunities and solutions that came out of those incidents – that is what gives me faith that you are the right fit for my organization and the clients we serve. Everyone makes mistakes – it’s how we react in those moments that truly defines us.
Shari Zinman is Director of Client and Lawyer Happiness at Caravel Law, a disruptive law firm that prides itself on having best-of-breed lawyers providing a full range of legal solutions for businesses at prices 30% to 70% lower than Big Law. Our Net Promoter Score of +69.4% over 2 years ranks us well above the +17% average for law firms. If you read this article, please email me!
Contributed by Shari Zinman
Director of Client and Lawyer Happiness, Caravel Law