It’s Hard To Say I’m Sorry

Cynthia walked into the break room to discover her employee file sitting open next to a cup of coffee and a half-eaten chocolate doughnut. Anyone walking into the break room would quickly and easily see the page listing her salary history. She grabbed the file, stormed into Jon’s office, and confronted him. Feeling embarrassed and angry, she wondered who else had seen the file before she had a chance to grab it.

Jon immediately jumped into a defensive state. He blamed another co-worker for calling him out of the break room on a so-called emergency that ended up being something minor. He told Cynthia that she was overreacting and that he was sure no one had seen the files. She listened to him defend his actions and back-peddle for five minutes without once apologizing. Without saying a word, she turned around, closed the door, and headed up to Jon’s boss’ office.

How would this scenario have ended had Jon simply apologized to Cynthia, taken accountability for his actions, and offered a plan for making sure it would never happen again? Cynthia likely would have calmed down and been able to move forward with her work, and Jon’s boss would not have had to be involved.

Imagine a scenario in your workplace where trust has been violated. Perhaps it’s nothing catastrophic, but still disappointing. A promise was broken. The relationship continues, but it’s hard to see them the same way. Learning to manage this kind of conflict is difficult. Balance is the goal. Some tend to ignore the situation. Others, like Jon, escalate matters, creating unnecessary drama.

What would happen if you called a timeout and debriefed the damage? What would it take to truly repair such a breach? Perhaps an open-minded exchange of perspectives would follow. Maybe a discussion of the circumstances would bring context to the choices. Maybe a simple apology would begin to mend the rupture.

When mistakes are made, there are consequences. It’s all about what you do next.

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  • Roger  On May 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    What happened to the rest of his doughnut, or did I miss the point of this story.

  • Mary Virginia  On May 29, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    So true. When I worked at the law firm, if I made a mistake I always told the attorney and apologized. Besides being the honest thing to do, it avoided or diffused any upset. Even high powered partners have a hard time beating you up after that.

  • Rich Dayment  On June 5, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Authority, accountability, and ego…a tenuous combination that is so often tested.

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