Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Apologies can be unsatisfying


My boss came to me yesterday afternoon and asked how the morning had gone. Then he held out customer service card where one of my colleagues in another department had written a negative response about me.


Frustrated with what I perceived to be this person's inability to solve the problem, I grabbed the patient's ID out of his hand so I could pull up the online records. I immediately knew this was a mistake, but I didn't apologize. I wish I had. Instead, I softened everything from that point on, explaining everything I was doing and trying to be as helpful as I could be, hoping this person would see the grabbing as an anomaly.

He didn't.

So I told the boss I planned to apologize to this person.

Today, after the mad rush, I stopped by the lab. The technician immediately recognized me and ushered me into an office. It wasn't what I expected. I had actually planned to apologize in front of others so they would know I respected this person and that I was acknowledging my role in behaving badly. But, this must have been what he wanted and needed.

I told him I was sorry. I shouldn't have done what I did and I wouldn't do it again.

I asked him why he had submitted the comment card instead of talking to me. He said, "I wanted to bring it to your attention. I wanted to make sure you weren't treating your junior sailors this way."

I then asked him why he didn't call me on my behavior at the time. "I recognize there is a difference in rank," I told him, "but if you were justified, as both of us know, then what was the point of not calling me on it there in front of those junior sailors? Wouldn't that have been a more powerful example of how to role model behaviors for those sailors?" Truth should be able to speak to power.

He didn't seem to understand what I was trying to say. "Would you like me to do anything else? Do you need anything else from me?" I asked. It didn't seem nearly enough. Perhaps the apology and my presence were all he wanted and that would suffice, but for me, it was very unsatisfying.

I talked to my boss this afternoon and told him I apologized to the lab technician. I also explained that it didn't help me; I knew I was wrong, but the apology didn't meet MY needs. I didn't know if it was the inequality in status or the cultural differences, but I needed something more.

I have a problem with trying to speed things up and can adopt a tone of voice that irritates people or suggests condescension. I suggested to my boss that perhaps I could ask my colleagues to help me identify when I'm getting to close to the edge by using some code word to help me step back from the situation and regain control of my feelings and actions.

"It could be helpful," he acknowledged. "That's the principle behind 360 degree evaluations." But he left it up to me to broach the topic with my subordinates. So that's my plan for tomorrow as I begin my trek toward a more mindful workplace.

1 comment:

StephC said...

That happens to me sometimes. I use a normal tone, and right before I bring out the "strident bitch who gets things done" I drop my voice to a razor sharp warning whisper. It seems to work quite well, no one I know has every made me raise my voice more than once..... ;)