Friday, July 31, 2009

How to Apologize

(a lost art in our society?)

Here's what not to do: don't apologize, while simultaneously rejecting responsibility. Do not say. "I'm sorry about that.... of course, it's not MY fault." For one thing, if you have nothing to do with it, why are you in the position of having to apologize in the first place? Think about that, it doesn't make sense. Second, whomever you are apologizing to likely doesn't care whose fault it is.

I've had this happen twice recently. The first time was upon being discharged from the hospital, following Robert's birth. Now, maybe Don and I did something wrong, didn't follow some un-written procedure, I don't know; I have never been admitted to a hospital before. But somehow, we managed to leave without getting any of the prescriptions my OB had written for me. (I had a lot, because the birth was pretty complicated: an antibiotic, a stool softener, prescription-strength ibuprofen, and Percocet.) I didn't think about it until later, but we were returning to the hospital every two hours anyway, so that I could breastfeed Robert*, so when I saw my OB behind the nurses' station, I said, "You know, I never got those scrips you wrote, could I have them now?" (Basically the only one I really wanted was the stool softener, because I didn't realize it was the same as the over-the-counter ones. I didn't think I needed the abx, and definitely wasn't going to be taking the painkillers.) Oy, the drama that then ensued. Apparently, Percocet is a controlled substance, and now they had a prescription for it floating around loose somewhere. He could only re-write the other ones. He apologized for the inconvenience, but said, very definitely, that this was "not his fault". OK, one, obviously it's at least partly his fault. Otherwise, see above: why are we having this conversation**? Second, I am standing here in the hospital, exhausted, in tremendous pain, an emotional wreck because my baby can't come home with me. I DON'T CARE whose fault it is, do I? I just want the meds I'm supposed to take. If I'd actually wanted the perc, I'd probably have thrown a fit right then and there.

Anyway, I'd more or less put that incident out of my mind, until dinner the other night. Don and I went to Chili's, and got some pretty terrible service. Not that I expect much from Chili's and its peers in terms of service, but still. Right now they have a "two for $20" deal, in which two people can share an appetizer and a dessert, and each get an "entre", for twenty bucks. Not a bad deal at all. So we ordered our appetizer and meals, and waited. And waited. Our cheese fries were very slow in coming, and we were getting antsy because Robert was awake and getting fussy. Then our meals arrive, still with no appetizer. We ask the girl who brought our dinners (not our server) about it. Before she returns, our server shows up (for the first time since she took our order) with the cheese fries. "Sorry about that, but somebody should have ran these out to you a long time ago", she said. No, YOU should have "run them out" before. I don't care what Chili's policy is about food running***, YOU are our server. Don't put this off on the rest of the staff, and by the way, thanks for the implication that these have been sitting under the warmer lights for the last fifteen minutes. I mean, it's going to be obvious as soon as we try them, anyway, but it's a visual I didn't really need. For whatever it's worth, it's Wednesday night, after nine oclock. The place is not exactly hopping. If she had come by our table at some point after taking our order (maybe to refill our iced teas, since we were sucking on the ice cubes?), she may have noticed that we had no app yet, and gone to check on the kitchen's progress.

What's the point of apologizing-- the very act of taking responsibility for something-- and simultaneously trying to distance oneself from it? It just doesn't work. Be big enough to apologize graciously, whether you think it's "your fault" or not. If something is genuinely out of your hands, whomever you are apologizing to will probably, grudgingly, realize this. They may even say so. I had that happen at the bank a lot; somebody's account would be frozen, or they'd have fraud, or be hit with a gazillion fees, and I would have to apologize as I tried to sort out their problems. I never said, "this isn't my fault, you know". Because to the customer, it is. To them, I was not "Mara", I was "The Bank". Just as the OB is not just Dr Zoidberg, he is The Hospital, and the Chili's waitress is The Restaurant. If you are representing an institution, stop worrying about your personal level of responsibility, and step up to it.

Another thing. "I'm sorry..." has two meanings. One, as discussed above, takes responsibility for some circumstance, e.g. "I'm so sorry your steak was over-cooked, let me compensate you in some way, perhaps with a complimentary dessert." The other, of course, just conveys sympathy; "I'm sorry your birthday cookout got rained out", "I'm so sorry to hear about your diagnosis", etc. People, if somebody is using "I'm sorry" in that second way, do not say, "well, it's not your fault!" If I say, "I'm sorry about your car accident", I know it's not my fault (assuming I wasn't there at the time). I am not apologizing for it-- I am not God. I am merely conveying sympathy, and implying that I mean the first kind of "I'm sorry" is kind of stupid, really. "Thank you" is a much more appropriate response.


*Don't even get me started on how they discharged me, while keeping him. That's a whole different rant.

**How was I supposed to get the scrips, anyway, if he didn't hand them to me? He had clipped them to my chart. Were we supposed to "check out" somewhere, instead of just leaving upon discharge? Was somebody else, a nurse maybe, supposed to formally go over everything? Maybe discharge procedure needs to be part of the hospital tour?

***I've worked at restaurants where the rule is, if there's hot food in the window, whoever's available takes it out ASAP. Period. I know other places have dedicated food runners. Whatever. On a night that slow, she should have been running her own food, regardless.


songbird said...

wow, mara, I'd love to hear your birth story. it sounds like a doozy.

Mara said...

It is, which is why I haven't written it yet, haha. But the short version is just that Robert's shoulders got stuck, and as the doctor and nurse were wrestling him out, I tore pretty badly, which required a lot of stitches. The antibiotics were to prevent infection, the ibuprofin to bring down the swelling, the stool softener and painkillers for the obvious reasons.

Bex said...

I don't think I ever told you about the story of a customer who's credit card authorization disappeared from our register on Mother's Day.
Busy day obviously. Ringing her up like normal, computer crashes mid authorization so when I bring the computer back up it doesn't have any record of the transaction. I ring her up again but this time when I run the card it will not go through (a safe guard so we don't double charge customers). I try to explain what has potentially happened (note here that the transaction was about $20-30, not a lot and she was not poor). I apologized a million times as you would expect and tried to convey it could easily be fixed if it has been charged but I would need to either run it again or run another card because I don't know if the charge when through. Needless to say she was not happy, she acted like I had just stolen the bread from her baby's mouth and did not purchase any items that day. She then discovered the charge had gone through, I followed the steps to have the charge reversed keeping her informed of exactly what I was doing. She still called my manager and complained that I "wasn't apologetic enough and it was a horrible experience." I still fail to see what she expected from me but it wasn't an apology. A lap dance? who knows

rainey3 said...

Oh Mara!! I'm right there with you. When we were discharged I thought we fell into the twilight zone or something.

We had the most absent-minded, dingbat of a nurse EVER who continually forgot we were in the room waiting for her to go through all the procedures to have us discharged. A major ice storm was rolling in and we REALLY wanted to get on the road and get home before it dumped all over north Dallas. Not too mention, Jordan's parents were kind enough to go to the grocery store for us while we were getting discharged and had plans to meet us at the apartment in time to fill the fridge and help us out of the car.

We waited in the room for an hour. When she finally came in to clean the room she was shocked we were still in there and then exclaimed "oh! I forgot all about you, silly me!!" I gave her the bitch look of death and reminded her that I was also waiting for my staples to be removed too (the joy of having a C-section). To my horror, she informed me that it would only take her a moment to remove them. I actually blurted out "wait, you're going to do it?"

After that lovely experience was over she left to get our papers and by this time, Zephyr was awake and had spit up on his cute little "going home" outfit. When Jordan went to change him, Z then peed all over his backup outfit... leaving our newborn son with nothing more than a diaper and a sweater to wear home on a blistery day in January. I was pissed, in pain, could barely walk or help thanks to the surgery and was hungry to boot.

When we FINALLY made it to the exit, there were several other families leaving with their new bundles of joy and due to the backup... all the covered spots to load/unload passengers were taken up and Jordan had to park our car out in the freezing rain. We seemed to be the only pair of new parents since all the other folks were video taping and seemed like real pros... not to mention all the other moms were being rolled right to their car door and I was dropped off at the hospital exit and told to WALK down the driveway to our car. What the hell? Then we couldn't get the car seat back into the car correctly and the weather was turning bad pretty quickly so I just yelled at Jordan that I would carry the car seat in my lap and he would need to drive carefully.

We drove the whole way home with the blinkers on and didn't go over 35 miles per hour, much to the annoyance of everyone else on the road and that is the only time my husband has EVER used the car horn and his middle finger. Ever. By the time we got home, it was a full on downpour of rain, sleet, and hail... and his parents were on their way over with perishables.

Needless to say it was one of the worst days ever, on what should have been a beautiful hallmark moment full of birds singing and every hospital employee in range willing to help us get our precious cargo safely into the vehicle. And of course, Jordan had to get up at 5am to go to work the next day and Zephyr didn't sleep at all that first night... we ended up calling my mother (who thankfully lived about 10 min away) at 1am crying and pleading for help.

She says she'll never forget walking through our front door (in her pj's no less) to the sight of Jordan holding the baby in his boxer shorts, me in a frumpy bathrobe with one arm around Jordan's waist and my other hand occupied as my son was using my thumb for a soother, and all three of us crying while we swayed back and forth trying to soothe each other. She just laughed, walked over and took Z, ordered Jordan to bed and told me to go make a cup of tea. In that moment, my mother was not only my hero but the Goddess herself.

Sigh... ain't that shit grand?

Mara said...

Becca-- lapdances do fix quite a few customer service problems, although I for one wouldn't expect one at the chocolate shop. Your customer sounds like a real bitch!

Amanda-- Huge hugs. Your 'hospital discharge tale' has mine beat x 1000. I, too, don't know how I would have gotten through that first week without my mom...