Rainmaking Recommendation #144: Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word

(Originally posted at Legal Ink Magazine)

With all due respect to Sir Elton John for usurping his song title, why is it so difficult for some people to apologize?

Recently, someone posted a message to private legal social media forum, of which I am a member, which violated the policies of the forum. That person was respectfully called out by other members of the forum and it was requested that the person not post a message of that ilk in the future.  Instead of apologizing, the person, whose original post caused a controversy, used excuses, rationalizations, and a defensive stance to justify their actions; this did not sit well with others in the group.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I, too, had made a mistake in this forum by posting something which was against the terms of service about a year ago. However, my response was a sincere apology and a promise never to do it again.)

Why does this matter to Rainmakers?

Remember the old adage: People do business with people they know, like and trust.

How much trust does this person have in the group now?   What is the likelihood that people in the group will refer business?

No one likes making mistakes. However, as human beings, we are inherently not perfect. You know that you should own up to your mistakes and say “I’m sorry”. Yet, this seems to be the hardest thing for many people to do.


Many people feel that if they apologize:

  • They will be perceived as weak;
  • People will lose respect for them;
  • They will feel shame and embarrassment.

As attorneys, some of us have the hardest time apologizing. This is because we were actually trained to be “perfect”. We are trained to dot every “I” and cross every “t”. Perfectionism is an intrinsic quality many attorneys have, and most of the time it’s an admirable quality. You will work hard to make sure that you are representing your clients and solving whatever issues they have. But when perfectionism becomes the need to be perceived as right all of the time, even when you have made a mistake, this is when the characteristic is not so commendable.

And while many studies have shown that perfectionism and the pressure to be flawless is one of the reasons that attorneys have some of the highest rates of depression of any profession, I am not here to discuss that aspect.

I am discussing the need to learn that:

  1. No one, not even you, is perfect,
  2. We all make mistakes, and
  3. That a sincere apology is a great Rainmakers’ tool when you do make that mistake.

Credibility and trust are two of your most prized assets as a Rainmaker. How can you be considered credible if, when you make a mistake, you don’t take responsibility? Will your clients trust you?

The words: “I’m sorry”, when used correctly can be incredibly powerful for growing your book of business. Yet, not if they are empty words or words that are used when another phrase would have sufficed. For example, how many times have you lightly bumped into someone and the phrase “I’m sorry” automatically issues forth? I was one of those people. Someone graciously pointed out to me that I was apologizing for things for which I had no need to apologize. Now, instead of the knee-jerk “I’m sorry” in that situation, I say “pardon me” or “excuse me”.

A heartfelt and sincere apology can actually enhance your reputation amongst your clients. Even for the small things. If you cannot keep a promise that you made to a client or prospect, like calling back when you said you would, genuinely apologize without giving excuses. The excuses are unnecessary. It will build trust with them and they will like you even more.


Remember (as always) people do business with people they know, like and trust. And from this viewpoint, an attorney cannot afford to ignore his/her mistakes and avoid apologizing.





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