The Difference Between Being Empathetic and Apologizing

One of the things that clients are looking for in in their apology, in addition to compassion and understanding that they've been injured, is honesty.
Published: July 02, 2018

John Owens, veterinary attorney at the Law Offices of John Owens, LLC, explains the major differences between being empathetic toward clients when an incident occurs in your practice and apologizing to clients for the incident.

"When using empathy in your practice, one of the first things that people want to do is apologize for everything. There's a difference between apologizing and being empathetic. When you're empathetic, if an incident occurs the first response is to say that you're sorry — to relate to your client. More than likely you are just as affected as your client is that something went wrong. The problem often is jumping into apologies too early, and the difference between being empathetic and an apology is, empathy you say, 'I'm sorry this happened.' 

In an apology, there's two extra parts that show up. You say, 'I'm sorry,' the second step is you admit that it was your fault and then the third step is you find out what you can do about it and you assist your client in solving the problem. Veterinarians often are much too eager to say, 'It's my fault,' before they find out if it really is their fault. So, a structured system for developing apologies is a great tool. Having a pre-planned script tends not to work as well. 

One of the things that clients are looking for in in their apology in addition to compassion and understanding that they've been injured is honesty. And if it comes across as pre-scripted or pre-planned, an apology tends to lack that honesty, and it actually can do more harm than good."

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