How To Have That Hard Conversation

When we are in job search, we feel vulnerable. We might feel incomplete, not strong, less-than, etc.

Sometimes, even though we feel all of these things, we need to make a very hard phone call.  This is a call where we say that it was our fault.  We rightfully take the blame.  It might be for something as simple as “oh my gosh, I totally missed our lunch appointment and left you stranded in a restaurant for an hour” to something harder like “I thought I sent that email about you to just the other person, and am totally embarrassed that I sent it to you, too.”

Yeah, that email that talked poorly about the person that you now have to apologize to.

So, how do you handle this?  What’s the best thing to do?

My advice is to just make the call.

Plan it, first, but don’t delay.

In your call, you should plan to:

  • Really apologize. This isn’t an empty “sorry if I offended you” or “sorry that some people get offended” or something like that.  You are not apologizing for their feelings, you are apologizing for what you did, or didn’t, do.  Whether they accept your apology or not is not on you.  Even if they choose to yell at you, and tell you why you are horrible, that is not on you.  You are simply and sincerely apologizing.
  • Minimize excuses. Many times I can tell people “sorry, my call went over, and that’s why I missed our call.”  But I wasn’t on a call in the first place.  I could give a white lie excuse, and it really would be no big deal.  But, to me, it is a big deal. It’s a question of personal integrity. It’s better for me to not give an excuse, or make something up, and just own that I made a mistake.  I find the more people give excuses that I don’t need to hear, the lamer they sound, and the less apologetic they seem.  So, simply leave it at the apology, and let them know that you’ll share WHY, or your excuses, but only if they care.  The important thing is “I’m sorry.”
  • Accept the right and fair amount of responsibility. If you did wrong, then own up to it. If they have some ownership in the wrong, then you don’t need to own that, but don’t turn this into a blame game. Whether they own up or not is NOT on you.  Whether they apologize or not is NOT on you.  You just do what is under your control, and do it sincerely.
  • Be ready to have this be water under the bridge. If you apologize, and they accept, then move on.  You don’t need to rehash this. Your mistake doesn’t necessarily define you as a person.  You need to forgive yourself, too.  It doesn’t take too long working with people to know that apologizing, while it can be just a few short words, is a BIG step in building a relationship of trust and professionalism (and friendship).  Don’t dwell on this, be as good as you know you are (or as good as others think you are).
  • Realize that they don’t have to accept your apology. If they don’t, that’s okay. You’ve done what you can. Relationships, and people, are complex. But you’ll know that you’ve done the right thing, for the right reason, and you’ll show you are a person of integrity.

I recently had a call like this.  It was a genuine call where the person apologizing was very sincere, obviously uncomfortable, and took full ownership.  The other person accepted the apology just fine, and that was that.  Any harm done was easily rectified with this simple communication, even though it was a hard call to make.

Trust me, making these calls will help your relationships stronger rather than just ignoring the problem and hoping it fades away.