Is it always a good idea to admit your mistakes preemptively in business?
Recalls are the thing to do these days—the latest one is from Southwest Airlines, who now must double check the fuselages on all its planes after cracks were found in three of them. Toyota’s recall over a year ago started the recall craze. After its media explosion, everyone wanted to know what their own car brand wasn’t telling them about the potential rattles under their hoods.
I bought a Hyundai Sonata a year ago, not too long after the infamous Toyota recall. Since then, my car has been recalled at least twice. I took it in six months ago for an alleged glitch in the steering wheel. When they alerted me of the recall with a letter, an email and a recorded phone message, the presentation was very matter of fact. The tone of the message portrayed the recall as a positive thing. Hyundai framed it as a service. They shaped the recall as a message that the company cared about the safety of their customers first, that they weren’t like the sly Toyota trying to cover up their products’ defects.
But I have to say, getting to the dealership was a pain. I had to make an appointment, and leave early from work, then wait for at least an hour. Recently I was alerted to another recall on my car, but the issue sounded so benign that I’ve decided it’s not worth worrying about.
Admitting to mistakes, doing the honest thing, generally seems to me like the right thing to do in business, and in life for that matter. But what about scenarios where the customer isn’t endangered or adversely affected, a situation where they likely would never find out about the mistake? What if fessing up to a mistake caused more aggravation and even harm to others than would be caused by just keeping your mouth shut?
Question: Is it always best to admit to mistakes preemptively in business? Have you experienced moments when it was best just to shut up?