It’s my fault! Whew, that feels good - Alan Berg CSPWhen newlyweds and engaged couples ask about the secret to our happy marriage, I often half-joke it’s that I accept that it’s always my fault. That’s usually good for a chuckle, but I said “half-joke.” A younger me didn’t understand the power of accepting responsibility. A younger me had a strong need to be right. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to be right… I just don’t have to be right all the time. It’s a very liberating state of being.

I’d rather be happy

I’ve been known to say that I’d rather be happy and successful, than be right. Being right often means that someone else has to be wrong. If that someone is my wife, how do you think that’s going to work out for us? If that someone is a customer, how do you think that is going to work out? So, you see, there’s a better solution and resolution than aiming to be right. And, unless you’ve never made a mistake, or nothing has ever gone wrong on your watch, you’ve come to that place where it’s your turn to deal with this.

But I didn’t break it!

When I was VP of Sales at The Knot, everything that happened on my watch was my responsibility. When an ad didn’t run correctly in a magazine or online, I wasn’t the one who personally placed the wrong ad or clicked the wrong button, but it was my responsibility to make it right. Sure, it’s easier to blame others, and often it was someone else who messed up. But if that person works on your team, it’s your responsibility. Do you want them to take responsibility as well? Of course, but that doesn’t absolve you from your responsibility as boss/owner/supervisor, even co-worker. If your shared goal is happy customers, and you get some, or all of the credit when things go well, then you also need to share the responsibility when things go wrong. You also need to lead by example.

Transparency is your friend

I remember a time, years ago, when there was a problem with a listing not appearing correctly. I was being CC’d on a string of emails between sales and customer service and tech, trying to figure out what had happened. Usually, when I’m CC’d I don’t reply as they just want me to know what’s happening, but are not asking for my assistance… yet. After a few back and forth exchanges I jumped in and asked: “Has anyone contacted the customer and told them what we’re doing?” They said, No. I told them that the customer probably thinks we’re doing nothing, because that’s all they can see. They’re not on this email chain (and should not have been). They can’t see that we’re working on it. They have no expectation as to when it will be rectified. Transparency is everyone’s friend as they’ll know that you’re giving this your attention. A lack of transparency has the customer making up their mind as to what, if anything is being done to fix their issue.

It makes you stronger

Too many people don’t want to accept responsibility because they don’t want to appear weak. I totally disagree. I’ll trust someone a lot more if they’re willing to admit they were wrong, or that something went wrong on their watch, as long as they also work hard to fix it. None of us is perfect. We live in an imperfect world. Things happen. Most reasonable people will understand that something went wrong if you’re honest with them. People who can’t admit they were wrong, or that they messed up have to be lying to you some of the time. That lack of trust will lead to you losing (or never gaining) their respect in your company or network. I’ve said and written about this many times, people do business with people they know, like and trust (credit to Bob Burg in the book: “The Go-Giver”).

What do you gain?

While the younger me had a stronger need to be right, the older, wiser me understands that there’s often little to be gained by proving yourself right. Everything doesn’t have to be transactional. There don’t always need to be winners and losers. We often hear about win-win situations, but it’s not always a fair division of the wins. After all, it’s not whether you think it was fair, it’s whether both parties feel it was fair. That’s why I’ve found more financial success by not focusing on the money I’ll earn, but rather focusing on the benefit to my clients. Most times that I’ve followed the money, it hasn’t worked out that well. For me, it’s misplaced focus. I can’t succeed if my clients don’t get valuable results, and neither can you.

Avoid the fight and get to the solution

When something goes wrong which do you focus on first: making it right or finding out why it went wrong? You need to do both, but the more immediate need, almost always, is making it right. If you’re transparent with the customer (or your partner, family or friend) about what went wrong and how you fixed it (or are going about fixing it), they’re more likely to continue to trust you. I prefer to avoid the conflict by not making the customer more upset than they already are by avoiding taking responsibility.

You can’t change their mind

When someone feels that you did something wrong, and when I say “you” it doesn’t necessarily mean you, personally, it could be your company, telling them that they are wrong isn’t going to get you far. It’s just going to get them more upset. One of the other “secrets” to our happy marriage, and my business success, is that I understand that you can’t change someone’s mind. It’s not yours to change. You can, however, provide them with information they didn’t have, and they can choose to come to a different conclusion. Learning that skill will serve you well, as it has me.

Can you hear me now?

I first met some of my best friends in the wedding and events industry when they called or contacted me about a problem, whether it was when I was publishing wedding magazines or as VP at The Knot. A few of them were very “passionate” in our first conversations (he writes with a smile). I believe that these were resolved well because I first listened. I didn’t interrupt and I let them express, in their words, what had happened. Regardless of whether they were partly, or fully, responsible for the error, I let them talk. A key to a positive resolution to almost any situation is letting the other person talk. The more you interrupt and interject, the less they’re going to feel validated and heard. Pay attention to the words and phrases they use, and when it’s your turn, use those same words and phrases to show them you’ve been listening. Some people just want to be heard. They’re not looking for anything else except to have that opportunity.

But it’s not my fault!

After being heard the next thing most people want is for you to apologize. Whether it’s “I’m sorry this happened” or “I can understand your frustration, we were all expecting everything to go smoothly for you,” some expression of empathy also goes a long way. Teddy Roosevelt once said: “People won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Have you ever been the customer and felt that the person you were talking with just didn’t care whether they helped you, or not? Unfortunately, most of us have been there.

What do I have to do to make this right for you?

After listening and expressing empathy, the next thing I like to do is ask: “What do I have to do to make this right for you?” Now, I know that some people cringe at the thought of asking that to a customer, afraid they’re going to ask for a full refund for a minor issue. Here’s the challenge, you can’t hit a target you can’t see. How do you know what will make them happy if you don’t ask? You might offer them something that you feel is of great value, but it’s not of value to them. I and many of my clients have found that customers often ask for less than you would be willing to give them. Or, they ask for something very different than you were going to offer. You don’t have to give them what they want, but not knowing what that is will make it much harder to satisfy them. Satisfied customers refer others and, when possible, come back to do business with you again.

Think Long-Term Value

Not being transactional also means thinking about the Long-Term Value of a relationship. Whether that relationship is personal, in your network or with customers, it’s not just the value that you get today that matters, it’s the value over the life of your relationship that matters. If you get referred by another wedding or event pro, that’s great today. But if they keep referring you, that’s even better. Over the years, what’s the value of some of those relationships you have in your market? Same thing for customers. Whether they use you again, or they refer people they know to you, what is the long-term value of all of those sales? When something goes wrong, the long-term value gets paused. If you handle it fast and well, it can continue. If you don’t it can stop. You’ll no longer have access to their connections, guests at their wedding or event and connections that those people know. Look at the horizon, not at your feet.

Ooops, I did it again!

So, it’s going to be my fault again, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, and that’s OK. I don’t live my life walking on eggshells or being unnecessarily cautious. Good things happen outside our comfort zones and that means that there will be unintended consequences. If we learn from those unintended consequences, then it was worth it. If we don’t, shame on us. Oh, I’ll be right sometimes as well (hopefully more often than not). I just won’t gloat about it. No victory lap. Just knowing I’m right is enough for me. And when things go wrong, and they will, I’ll fall on my sword, empathize, make it right and continue being happy and successful, in business and in life. I hope you will, too.

© 2020 Wedding Business Solutions LLC & AlanBerg.com

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Aaron Lane says:

    In business, as in life, this advice is worth its weight in gold (or bitcoin, if that’s your thing). Thanks for sharing this, Alan. And my wife thanks you for reminding me of this too.

  • AJ Falcon says:

    Another great, relevant article with a valuable lesson. Thanks!

  • Dear Alan. I hope you are OK with it…. (let me know if you are not and I will delete), But your blog reminded me, amongst other things, of the covid situation in Victoria and the lack of transparency and honesty by the current regime. I have shared some of your Blog post in a F.B. post referencing that and showing how more trust, less criticism stems from being trustworthy and taking responsibility. Something sorely lacking at the moment. An excellent article and one worth keeping in the back of the mind when faced with difficult times and someone is looking for scapegoats… Don’t be THAT person. Step up and say “My watch, my responsibility”

    • Alan says:

      Hi Ron, of course it’s fine to share this, or any of my posts (with attribution, thanks). I’m glad it resonated with you, and I hope it does with the powers that be down there in Victoria.

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