We all make mistakes. Some blunders are big, and others are small. No one is surprised that someone is not perfect. However, at any given mistake, chances are high that someone is going to be upset. Maybe it will be a client. Maybe it will be your direct supervisor. Maybe it will be someone with the power to fire you or have you fired.
When you make a mistake, apologize without making excuses. Remember:
Apologize to co-workers, bosses, even clients – even for such little things as being late for a meeting. No excuses. No “traffic was terrible,” just “I’m sorry I’m late.” No blaming secretaries. If you must make an excuse, take responsibility for it. If you’re late, say “I’m sorry I’m late. I ran over in my last appointment, and I should have worked harder to finish on time. I apologize for making you wait.”
IT’S MORE HOW YOU HANDLE IT THAN WHAT YOU DID
The “doing” part of an apology is fixing it. If you can fix a mistake, fix it, fix it fast, and fix it well. If you can give it a little extra to compensate for the first mistake, do it. If you forgot something you were supposed to do, do it now – or as close to now as you can. Or see if someone can cover for you if it’s with an important client. Whatever “fixing it” is under the circumstances, get it done.
When you can anticipate a problem, let them know in advance. If you know you’re running late, call your next appointment to let them know. Your 3:00 appointment would rather know at 1:00 that you’re running about half an hour late than be sitting around waiting until 3:00 before you call. Same with family. Same with friends. When you know, make sure they know.
THE DANGER OF THE UNKNOWN BACKSTAGE
Scot Conway’s executive coaching training focuses on the other side of this equation. “Just as a high level business leader is often vulnerable, so are mid-level leaders and even line workers. What makes it seem so random is that we often don’t know what’s going on backstage.”
Conway’s lessons to major companies focuses on the business side of this problem. In any large company, the Pareto Principle (commonly known as the 80/20 Rule) will usually apply. If you have 100 employees, 20 of them will likely be responsible for about 80 percent of what goes in the company. If any of them were to suddenly leave, that could create a problem that would need solving.
The top 4 of those 20 will often be critical players – and free agents. That means a sudden lose would be very costly, maybe devastating. They are so good, they really could leave at any time. High end business leaders are often clueless about how close they are to losing their top people – or their top clients.
With all that stress going on in business at any time, there will be moments when a boss or co-worker will be under much more stress than usual. We’ve all had “one of those days” when bad news just keeps piling up. If we make a mistake on one of those days, we’re likely to face an over-reaction.
WHEN THEY OVER-REACT, YOU STAY CALM
When someone over-reacts, especially a big client or a boss, let them. You stay calm and listen. Let them be the only one getting hot.
There are several reasons for over-reactions. Maybe they have a temper, in which case anything you do to fight back will only make it worse. Maybe they are under an unusual amount of stress, in which case anything you do will only make it worse. Maybe they just got some other bad news, in which case…. You get the idea. Very, very rarely will fighting with a boss or big client do anything other than make it worse.
Then you’re back to apologizing and fixing it.
If you have developed enough of a relationship with this person to know that this is highly unusual behavior, you can ask if there’s anything bothering them in addition to your mistake. “In additional to my mistake” is important when you ask this question. If they think you’re saying “Obviously MY little thing was fine, but YOU are totally out of line” you will only make it worse. In fact, if you’re not sure you can muster enough empathy to do it sincerely, just stick with the apology and let it go.
On the other than, if you become part of their solution rather than part of their problem, that can inspire loyalty. Be careful, though! If you cross the line to a confidante, you could end up having your work time eaten up by a personal relationship. If you can help solve their problem, though, you become a lot more than just an employee or just a vendor. There are a lot of judgment calls to make here, so make them wisely.
Contact: Scot Conway is the lead executive coach and trainer with Master Revelation. Whether doing keynote addresses or one on one consulting, Conway always provides education and an experience. He may be contacted at Master Revelation at Scot@MasterRevelation.com, 619-670-8764, or by mail at Master Revelation, 2782-E Sweetwater Springs Blvd., Spring Valley, CA 91977. The website is http://MasterRevelation.com. For more on Emotional Intelligence, see Conway’s personal site: http://ScotConway.com.
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Master Revelation is dedicated to high-end executive coaching, corporate and organizational training, and individual personal development. Master Revelation training focuses on knowing and developing yourself, knowing others, and thus conquering.