Someone on my team had blown it. He had taken too long to complete some significant tasks, which put one of our clients in an awkward position. Since his attempts to apologize to the client seemed to fall on deaf ears, I realized I needed to step in to repair the damage. So I dialed our client’s number to apologize for our failure to serve him well.
Before the phone rang twice, however, I hung up.
Even though the damage seemed to be minor to me, it dawned on me that our client could easily see this as a major problem. Therefore, it called for a face-to-face conversation.
Therefore I called him to ask if I could take him to lunch to apologize personally for what had happened. His guarded response confirmed that this was no small matter to him. So I booked the flight.
When I walked into the restaurant the next day, I saw him sitting with another man who turned out to be his attorney. Thinking I might try to minimize the damage, he brought “the troops” to back his case.
My gut tightened up a bit, so I prayed that God would give me grace not to become defensive or competitive (two of my most natural reactions in a situation like this).
We exchanged pleasantries as we scanned the menu and placed our orders. Then after a moment of awkward silence, I moved into a “Seven-A Confession.”
I acknowledged our failure to serve him in a timely manner. Although I was tempted to point out how he had caused several major delays himself, God helped me to avoid making any excuses whatsoever.
Instead, I admitted our mistakes in detail and acknowledged how they had probably impacted the client, both emotionally and substantively. Finally, I offered a solution to get us back on track … plus a commitment to waive our entire fee if he was not completely satisfied with the outcome of the process.
He was stunned. His attorney showed the same surprise.
Once he collected his thoughts, he told me he had expected me to make excuses and downplay the seriousness of the delays. So they had actually spent an hour at their office that morning preparing a counterattack. My unqualified confession caught them totally off guard.
The mood at the table changed dramatically. The tension evaporated, bodies relaxed, smiles become more natural, and we all switched off “attorney mode.”
In response to my no-excuses apology, the client actually started making excuses for me (a perfect example of “The Golden Result”). He even pointed out that they had failed to give timely responses on two critical exchanges.
As tempting as it was to minimize our failure by agreeing with him, I said, “I appreciate that. But it’s actually beside the point. Our organization is committed to serving you with excellence regardless of others’ actions. We failed to do that, and I’m here to do whatever it takes to make things right with you.”
After a short, congenial tug-of-war as to who was most responsible for the delay, we both laughed out of pure relief. We were not going to be adversaries. We could relax and work together to find a solution that moved us in the direction we all wanted to go.
Face-to-face. No excuses.
It’s often the fastest way to turn a conflict into an opportunity to build a closer relationship.
Ken Sande is the founder of Peacemaker Ministries and Relational Wisdom 360 and the author of numerous books on biblical conflict resolution, including The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict.