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The Power of Apologizing
I knew I was wrong the moment I hung up the phone. It was about 11 pm and I’d just called the company I was scheduled to interview with the next day. I’d called to cancel the interview.
The right way to approach the situation would have been to wait until morning and then call to explain over the phone. I’d already breached proper etiquette by not giving 24 hour notice before canceling a meeting, now this cowardly late night voicemail message made matters even worse.
A bad feeling enveloped me and lingered for the rest of the night as I tossed and turned. I had two regrets that kept me awake. First I regretted the way I canceled the interview, then I regretted the fact that I’d canceled in the first place. While I had another very good offer on the table, still had I gone in to talk to the people I canceled on, their position might have been exactly what I was looking for. And if I put my mind to it, I might have even been able to finesse a way to do both.
But now I’d never know, I thought. I kept telling myself over and over that what was done was done and there was nothing I could do about it. Yet the remorse refused to go away.
Then this happened. The next morning bright and early, the human resources person from the company called and left a message asking if I might not reconsider coming in to talk about the position.
Have you ever been in a situation where something goes wrong and it’s your fault, yet afterwards everyone is perfectly willing to forgive you your trespass, but you have trouble forgiving yourself?
That’s where I was when I got the message. They didn’t mind my cancellation—I did. And while I had reconsidered the position, at first I wasn’t going to call the Human Resources person back. I was afraid I’d look like a complete flake and maybe even a game player. Then the answer came to me. I knew exactly what I would do.
In the One Minute Apology by Ken Blanchard and Margaret McBride, the authors write that integrity is part of the process when you apologize. It’s when you “recognize that what you did or failed to do is wrong and is inconsistent with who you want to be.”
I knew I wanted to be better than my surreptitious late night phone message, so I sent the human resources representative an email fully explaining why I decided not to come in and I said I was “terribly sorry” about the late notice. At this point I didn’t believe I’d seriously be considered, but I wanted to clear my conscious anyway. This is another aspect of apologizing which is outlined by Blanchard and McBride. A genuine apology is not attached to outcome. I wasn’t apologizing to get a job, rather I was apologizing to right something I felt I’d done wrong.
A few moments after I sent my apology, I received a prompt reply inviting me in the only catch was this: I had to be there in a half hour. But I was 45 minutes away from the company! I asked for a few extra minutes and practically ran down the street in high heels to the train station. I wound up getting lost which made me even later.
The important thing, however, is that I showed up like I said I would. According to Blanchard and McBride, an apology is just words if we don’t follow it up with action. So there I was putting on makeup and earrings and straightening stockings on the “A” train into Manhattan. I’d been given a second chance and I was determined to give my all for this interview even if I was no longer in the running.
As it turned out, I enjoyed the interview with my potential supervisor. The position sounded wonderful and the building and grounds were absolutely gorgeous. Who knows if I’ll actually get the job. But that’s not really the point. Apologizing and then putting some action into making amends put me back in alignment with who I want to be, not just as a professional, but as a person who is on a never ending journey moving forward.
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