They shot back “Well it hurts my feelings when you say you don’t care.”
I still think about that conversation and how stupid it was of me to say that. It was the exact wrong thing to say to a person who cared a little too much about every single word they typed. I was trying to say that I was just trying to help, that my interest was in making the story better and I didn’t understand why they had to be defensive when I was trying to improve what they had. I messed up. I have a million excuses, but what matters in the end is that I messed up.
We all mess up. That’s not what I want to write about. What I want to dig into is what happens after we mess up. I never apologized to that person, we already had a strained relationship. I often think about whether that person thinks about that conversation as much as I do. I try really hard not to live in the past. It’s a trait my mother is guilty of and now, in her 70s, she is regretting her 20s still. I can’t do that.
You make a mistake – whether forgetting to send a newsletter on time, or reading that document when you said you would or calling someone by the wrong name. Our instinct is to apologize and then avoid. I’m going to advocate for acknowledging and moving on.
For some people, apologies mean everything. If you hurt someone’s feelings, apologies help. But if you plain forget or just fuck up, apologies are never enough.
This is more productive: I messed up and forgot to send this newsletter on time because I hadn’t written this post yet. From now on I’m going to try to write on Wednesday, then edit and send on Thursday.
When you mess up, especially with someone you’re managing, they want to know that they can rely on you, that this was a one time deal, that you are the manager you aspire to be. So it’s not about apologies. It’s about transparency. How did you mess up? What led to that? What will change from now on?
(The worst thing to do by the way, is to pretend something never happened. I can tell you from experience that moving on without addressing your fuck up leads to lots of resentment, on both sides.)
You lost your temper because your kid is sick. You’re going to be more up front about when you’re having a bad day personally so people know and can (hopefully) forgive you for being quick to temper. You disappear because you’re doing too many jobs. You have too many priorities on your plate and you want managing to be the first, so you’re going to work with your boss to unload some of the things that are keeping you backlogged. It will take three months. Whatever it is, acknowledge it, say what happened, and then what will change. Then actually make that change happen.
Transparency. Change. Adjust. Onward.
Best way to eat them? Cracker, bacon, cream cheese, and jalepeno on top.
Great things I’ve read lately
A fraternity death, and an examination of Asian American identity (NYT). The cost of a USPS mixup (Artsy). Noodle salad is the best. (Food52) What to say when people ask why you don’t have kids (NYT).
Jobs jobs jobs
- Social Media editor at Tasting Table.
- Writing and editing chief, WSJ.
- Tech editor, Washington Post.
- Senior video producer for McClatchy’s Video Lab West in Sacramento.