When You've Done Wrong
by Mary Murray µ?Äã×ö?íÁËÊÂÇé -
Òõ?íÑô?î??ÊëÄÜÎÞ?ý???íÊ?Éñ?î??Ê?ÏÍÓÐ?í????ÎÄÊÇÒ?ÆªÐÄÀíÑ?µÄ Á?×???Éç?áÑ?µÄÃÀÎÄ??ËüÈÃ?ÁÕßÃ??×??×öÁË?íÊÂ??Ô??ÇËµÒ?Éù"I am sorry"×ãÒÔ?â?öÎÊÌâ??×ã ÒÔÃÖ???ýÊ??? IT ALL STARTED one morning when Deborah Work's boss handed her some difficult new assignments. She was told that for the next few weeks he intended to push her "to the brink." He's a slave driver, Work thought, How can he be so insensitive? She typed a message on her computer terminal to an understanding colleague, complaining about the "android's" lack of feeling. Then she sent the note over the office network to her friend's computer - or, at least, she meant to. Work realized her mistake seconds before she saw the look of profound shock on the boss's blushing face across the room. Instead of directing the message to her friend, she had sent it to him! Everyone commits a major blunder from time to time. At first, we're stunned with disbelief. But once the damage is done, we must try, as gracefully as we can, to pick up the pieces. Fortunately, there are ways to make amends and move on. Here are some points to remember when you need to redeem yourself. Air the details. After humiliating themselves, people are often tempted to mutter an apology and slink away. But lots of times it takes more than a quick "I'm sorry" to put things back on track. In Deborah Work's case, it required some talking. After a few deep breaths, Work dashed off a note to the boss, asking to meet with him. He agreed, and they adjourned to an empty conference room. "Obviously, I didn't mean that message for you," she said. "I'm really sorry." she explained that the term android was a joking, shorthand way to describe how he seemed distant and insensitive to her. Work's boss was almost grateful to hear her criticism in reasonable terms. He even promised to try to be more understanding. "Deb," he said, "when we walk out of here, this incident is over." He kept his promise, and from then on Work found it much easier to communicate with him. By talking it out, Work helped her boss calm down and deal with the problem. This should always be the offending party's main objective, explains industrial psychologist Michael W. Mercer and the author of How Winners Do It. "Focus on how to handle the situation maturely, rather than just reacting emotionally." Show your true feelings. The embarrassment that comes from public error often tempts people to be overly reserved in their apologies. The victims "want to see some sign that you truly feel bad," says Mercer. "They're more likely to calm down if you seem upset." Judint Martin, the etiquette columnist known as Miss Manners, discovered the
magic of groveling after she caused an accident many years ago. Martin drove into an intersection and rammed a car carrying a man, woman and baby. After learning that no one was hurt, she began babbling instinctively. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." Her abject apologies kept flowing in front of the traffic judge a few weeks later, and once her sentence was decided (two Saturdays in driving school), the driver of the other car escorted Martin
outside and said to her husband, "Your wife is a wonderful lady." ("Yeah," said the husband. "Too bad she can't drive!"). Martin's apologies were not an etiquette ploy, just a spontaneous admission of fault. But they well illustrate the power of remorse. "Most people are quite understanding," sys Martin, "and if you admit you are at fault, they will be generous." Be wary of excuses. When I wrote an article about a performance by preschoolers at a fair, I devoted one paragraph to a four-year-old boy who had slept through the whole show. He had not, his father complained over the phone after reading the front-page story. "That was another kid, not ours." "But the woman running the show told me the child was yours," I blurted. That only made the man angrier, and he complained to my boss. Of course, blaming someone else is usually an ineffective approach to excuse-making. Still, the problem was not that I had made an excuse, but that I had made it so bluntly. Everyone makes excuses. University of Kansas psychologist C. R. Synder, author of two books on the subject, says, "Excuses relieve tension by helping assure both sides that the mistake was an aberration that will not be repeated." But excuses are more palatable, he adds, when they are disguised as "explanations." I should have apologized to the offended father and promised a correction in the paper. Then I could have explained that I had been misinformed. The man probably would have been happy to hear the full story, once he was satisfied I had accepted blame. Make restitution to fit the crime. After the apologies and excuses, you must act to reverse the damage you've done. Rarely is this a simple matter of replacing a broken dish or paying a cleaning bill. More often, exact restitution is impossible. Kara Ann Smith, a lawyer, will never be able to replace the rhinestone tiara she borrowed for a costume party and lost. It was the crown her friend had worn as a beauty queen, and its value was sentimental. Rather than offer to reimburse her, Smith spent a day hunting through secondhand stores until she found a similar crown. She happily paid $50 for it and gave it to her friend. When the damage has been inflicted on feelings, token gifts like flowers go some distance toward making restitution. But material gestures aren't always appropriate. After making mistakes at work - by missing deadlines or misplacing documents - give the boss tangible assurance that you will not be a repeat offender, says Rhods Frindell Green, a psychological consultant in New York City. "Ideally, you should come up with a new
system that will both prevent the same mistake and solve other problems in your job." Green says. "That way you help restore the boss's shattered faith and make restitution." Give a nod to fate. One of the biggest problems people face after fouling up is not letting themselves off the hook. Tim Davis, a photographer, reacted to a recent blunder as most people do - by berating himself. He had been visiting Hawaii with friends, staying in a rented beach house built on stilts. Everyone enjoyed the trip until a storm hit, washing out roads and water pipes leading to the house. The morning after the storm, Davis repeatedly checked the kitchen faucet to see if the water supply had been restored. It hadn't, so the group moved a condominium in a nearby city. Two day later, Davis got a phone call from the real-estate agent. The people next door to the beach house had seen water gushing over the deck. Apparently Davis had left the kitchen faucet
open and the drain plugged. When the pipelines were repaired, the house was flooded. "It was totally my fault," Davis admitted to everyone. He sent a letter of apology to the owners of the house, offering to pay for damage. And for some time, he felt guilty. But the longer he thought about it, the more he began to smile at the image of a man-made waterfall cascading from the deck of the house. And once he saw the humor, he also realized he had done nothing malicious. It had been an accident, brought about by a sequence of events, beginning with the storm. "We have limited control over things that happen," says Frank Farley, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.. "Sometimes you've got to think of your mistakes at fate - the luck of the draw." Learn from your mistake. A few years ago, Letitia Baldrige, author of books on etiquette, committed a gaffe so regrettable that it changed her daily habits for good. A friend who was employed at the United Nations prepared a dinner in honor of Baldrige and her husband, Robert, and invited ambassadors from two countries. "I would have been honored to attend." says Baldrige, "but I wrote the engagement on the wrong night in my appointment book. When the dinner was held, Bob and I were at the movies." She was oblivious to the problem until the next morning, when she heard the woman's hurt voice on the telephone. "At that instant," Baldrige says, "I wanted to die." She apologized on the phone, went to the woman's office to repent in person, then wrote a more formal four-page letter of remorse and sent it to the woman along with two dozen roses. Six months later, she sent more flowers to commemorate the half-year anniversary of her blunder. The woman had already excused Baldrige by this time, but she called again and repeated, "Tish, you are forgiven." Maybe so. But the sting was still there, and it left an indelible impression. These days, Baldrige double-checks the date of every appointment while she is making it. No more jotting notes by the phone with intentions of recording them in the book later.
"THEY SAY best men molded out of faults," wrote Shakespeare in Measure for Measure, "and, for the most, become much more the better for a being a little bad." Thus, each mistake made can be seen as a prime opportunity for self-improvement. Indeed, the bigger the blooper, the better its chance of helping you become a better person - if you know how to make amends.