Apology Resolves Conflict for Business

Posted By on April 15th

Jason Fried is a columnist for Inc. Magazine, an author, and the co-founder of 37signals, a software firm. Fried almost had a big conflict on his hands, and an apology saved his company from even bigger headaches. The apology resolved his conflict, and you can read about it here: http://www.inc.com/magazine/20110201/how-to-turn-disaster-into-gold.html

Fried describes that his company provides a real-time chat tool for small businesses called Campfire, and on a particular occasion, the software was not working correctly. Users of the software were becoming impatient and irate. Fried writes that the upset customers contacted his company and expressed their unhappiness on Twitter.

Fried’s most telling statement, however, is, “Of course, all companies experience episodes like this. How they handle the situation is what counts. I’m not talking about fixing the problem—you have to fix it; that’s a given. I’m talking about how you communicate with your customers, how you accept responsibility, and how you make things right. That’s what people remember.” By communicating with their clients and accepting responsibility, Fried’s company resolved the conflict before it became a truly long-term disaster. Fried provides three steps, which can be applied to all conflicts:

  1. Communicate, communicate, and communicate
  2. Accept responsibility (don’t hedge; don’t avoid ownership; don’t offer an insincere apology)
  3. Make things right (make sure the behavior doesn’t happen again and provide more restitution than expected)

Note that the apology was only the second step to resolve the conflict; the company also had to make things right. Action needs to follow words. Fried writes, “People don’t judge you on the basis of your mistakes—they judge you on the manner in which you own up to them. In my experience, most companies do a terrible job of taking blame.”

About the author

Keith Grossman helps individuals and businesses negotiate and manage conflict more comfortably. Keith is a Collaborative Attorney, a Family and Circuit Civil mediator certified by the Supreme Court of Florida, an Arbitrator qualified by the Florida Supreme Court, and an educator. Keith frequently lectures and facilitates training programs, works with individuals one-on-one, and writes articles on conflict management and negotiation topics. His e-workbooks, “What Is A Peace Chest?” and “How Do You Build A Peace Chest?“ are now available on Kindle.


One Response to “Apology Resolves Conflict for Business”

  1. Ben Ziegler says:

    Thanks for sharing this story, Keith. A good example of the power of apology. I’m also a fan of 37signals, and it doesn’t surprise me that they understand something about “real” apologies; and holding oneself accountable.

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