I was at an event recently. The room was overwhelmingly packed with men. I wasn’t surprised. In fact, I was excited. I’d been looking forward to it. I love working with and learning from men – and I couldn’t wait to see what this esteemed forest of testosterone (that’s the correct term for a group of men, right?) had in store at this event.
At one point the head honcho got up on stage and shared a personal story about how he’d waited a long time for a special custom ordered item, which broke almost immediately once it finally arrived. He then parlayed that story to an email he’d received earlier that week and explained that the speaker originally planned for that session had unexpectedly cancelled. Here’s an excerpt of his explanation (where he re-enacted the email he’d received):
“I hope this doesn’t impact our working relationship in the future” (Said in high sing-song voice)
“Yeah right.” (Said in his normal voice with a fair wodge of sarcasm)
Cue: scattered laughter from the room.
I didn’t laugh. Instead, I was horrified. Here’s why:
That speaker had, in part, changed their commitment at the last minute because they had experienced a terrible loss and would be attending a funeral on that day (information, which by the way, wasn’t shared at the event).
In business, shit happens. Sometimes terrible, bowel-twisting, frustrating, side-blindingly unexpected shit happens. It’s what you do next that counts.
I’m not sure why that dude decided to approach the situation the way he did. And I get that this probably says way more about my own stuff than anyone else’s, but here’s what I can tell you: it pissed me off.
(Please don’t get me wrong; I have immense respect for this dude, he’s an incredible businessman, which is probably why this moment stood out to me so much. I also thought the replacement speaker was really interesting. Overall the event was well organized and included some great speakers and content. I was happy I attended, for sure.)
I’ve spent time with and worked with some fairly high-ups and ball-tearingly demanding clients, yet I’ve never knowingly met anyone who didn’t respectfully empathize if you’d lost someone close and had to change plans to accommodate the grief kicking you in the guts (however that manifests) and everything else that goes along with it. Work comes second. I’d assumed that was universally understood.
Sure, someone cancelling on you last minute is a fuck up. But, instead of (unfairly, I reckon) bagging someone out, this moment could’ve been a great opportunity to talk about the importance of risk management, contingency plans, having a strong network to support you and call upon, that elusive work/life balance stuff, a reminder to focus on what’s most important, be purpose-driven, even legacy planning. I could go on. But instead of that, all I could hear was his ‘Yeah right’ and laughter from the room ringing in my ears.
Of course, we’re human. Whether it’s mistakes we’ve personally made, unexpected changes out of our control, freak accidents, acts of nature, whatever, sometimes fuck ups will happen. No one is immune (least of all me).
It got me thinking: how can we stay classy in these situations?
So humbly, here I’m sharing 15 things I’ve tried and had success with when shit’s been going on or has already gone down:
1. Taking personal responsibility (even if I’m not actually personally responsible. I’m the boss. That means ultimate responsibility is always mine.)
2. Sincerely apologizing, live if possible (and using real words, not formal corporate speak).
3. Sending a handwritten card (or a bunch of them).
4. Sending flowers.
5. Adding extra bonuses (that offer meaningful value).
6. Discounting or refunding my services (because my personal take is that long-term, rep is more important than money).
7. Going above and beyond to solve the problem and/or make the final deliverables even better than originally agreed.
8. In the first instance, focusing on results rather than blame, excuses, or even solid reasons why the fuck up happened.
9. Realizing that to hire and keep working with top calibre people, I’ve gotta be a top calibre employer/client myself.
10. Kindness and respect while still holding firm on my own boundaries.
11. Just not mentioning it and busting a gut to sort the fuck up out behind-the-scenes, before my client ever realizes there was an issue.
12. Standing in full support (of my team/ my client/ my hired expert/ my wolf pack <– picking whichever feels most aligned to my role and integrity).
13. Sharing the lesson (after I’ve focused on getting results).
14. Risk management planning (by that I mean identifying as much shit as possible that could go wrong and what to do – if anything – to minimize the likelihood and impact if it actually were to go down. And then, obviously, taking action to implement those safeguards).
15. Thinking about the kind of leader I wish I was/ hope to become/ am inspired by, and what they would do in this situation. And then going and doing that.
I hope you found this useful. And for anyone who’s recently lost someone dear, I’m thinking of you.