Mistakes happen. No matter how much training, experience, or process controls we have in place it’s still possible to misconfigure, bring down a system, or cause a customer to go down unexpectedly. And it feels horrible, that sinking feeling in your stomach as you start to realize what happened.
Unless you’re working with an engineering-centric organization that understands the all technical issues involved in the problem as well as you understand them, as an engineer you probably have the additional challenge of translating and clearly communicating what happened, especially to non-technical parties.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Have a good relationship with your customers and coworkers to begin with. Far too often there are antagonistic relationships between IT and Business, Engineering and Sales, etc. Develop trust and a good working relationship so that when there are issues you can address them together.
- Take responsibility. Don’t blame other people or the situation. If you did it, be accountable.
- Be clear and concise, and explain the issue in a way that makes sense to your audience. Don’t use a lot of technical jargon and details. At best your victims will be confused and frustrated, or worse you’ll seem like you’re being dishonest.
- State the solution. Whether the issue is fixed or about to be, explain what the resolution to the situation is.
- Deliver the message in the most effective and appropriate way possible. An email might not be the best way to communicate the apology. You may need to be on the phone or deliver the message in person.
- Ask for feedback. It’s an opportunity for the other party to express concerns or items you may have not considered, and it’s a chance for you to become a better engineer.
And remember, the point of the apology is not to be absolved of any wrongdoing. If you screwed up, fix up, get up, fess up.