Leaving aside the fact that in private I tend to say sorry rather too often (a failing I apparently share with the majority of Englishmen of my age and background: probably early Prep school trauma), in the world of work my early bosses were committed exponents of the “Never explain, never apologise” school. I have always tended to favour the opposite, reckoning that my clients would prefer me to put up my hands if something has gone wrong. The complicating factor, at least for lawyers, is that professional indemnity insurers have their own take on this subject (veering very much more to the somewhat more robust approach of my first employers) and equate sorry to an admission of liability. The trick is to find a way of saying sorry, meaning it and not losing cover. In yesterday’s FT there was an excellent article by Stefan Stern, Say sorry and mean it – or don’t say anything at all. In the right context, saying sorry is a very powerful statement. As Stern notes:
Genuine apologies disarm opponents, win new friends and help you hang on to old ones. In business, when necessary, bosses should apologise sincerely and quickly, or not at all.
This is certainly true of clients. The danger is saying sorry in such a way that it is quite clear you either aren’t, or worse are saying it because you have to (train managers on First Great Western). Perhaps the only thing worse is when it is a pre-recorded announcement (next time you are waiting for a late train, listen hard!).