Recently I disappointed someone. What makes it worse, it was someone I quite like and who had done nothing wrong. It was a simple case of me needing something different than what she could provide. I was very clear that my decision did not demean her qualities in any way and I told her so in the hope that it would not permanently affect our cordial relationship. But it did. Whatever I had said, it didn’t lessen her disappointment one bit.
Even if you won’t do it on purpose, it will happen that you disappoint someone, knowingly or inadvertently: you forget to invite your cousin to your dinner party, you decide to buy your material from a different company, you don’t attend the meeting/concert/talk/family reunion, you take a leave in the middle of an important project at work.
Now the other one is hurt. And angry. Sulking or swearing revenge or refusing to talk to you ever again. And you in turn feel bad about it and/or mad at them: they exaggerate and really should understand you and not make a such a fuss about it. And then both your sensitivities clash. You both feel victimised by the other. I admit I did too when this lady cut all bridges between us.
As we all know, there is nothing elegant in cultivating victimism, but haven’t we all done it?
What would be a classy way to handle such a situation? We are usually better at being (or trying to be) generous and forgiving when we feel wronged than when we are in the position of the bad guy.
Here are five things to do (or not) when you have disappointed someone
- Mistakes happen. If you did made a mistake, forgive yourself. No, you don’t have to be flawless, despite what your uptight auntie Prudence told you when you were twelve. Rather than beating yourself up for hours or days or weeks and getting on everybody’s nerves, think about more graceful ways to handle similar situations in the future.
- Don’t drown the fish. “Noyer the poisson” means you try to befuddle someone with a cock and bull story until they are sufficiently confused. If the ugly truth is that you forgot to invite your cousin to your dinner party, don’t tell her: “I had invited two people who recently went through a divorce and with your own divorce just five years ago, I was afraid that it might bring back bad memories for you.” It would only make things worse. Own your mistake. That’s the most elegant way and incidentally all you can do and all there is to do.
- When you apologise, keep it simple, keep it short and do it for the right reasons: apologise because you are truly sorry, not because you hope to coax the other person with a profuse apology into not being mad any longer. We all know that annoying person who comes late to a meeting and then floods the others with a torrent of apologies and a detailed description of all the reasons since the year dot about why and how it happened, none of which were truly her fault, until everyone sighs “it’s ok” just to be left in peace.
- Do not promise that it will never happen again, just to calm the situation. “I promise next time I’ll be on time/call you/ speak up to my mother/give the job to you.” If you are not one thousand percent committed to do so, don’t make a promise. And even if you were, it is much, much better to say nothing and simply let your actions speak.
- Sometimes there is simply no way to spare the other the disappointment. When you are clear about your decision, when you feel you are doing the right thing, when you communicated in a respectful and sensitive manner – then that’s really all there is to it. If the other is still angry, mad at you, complaining and etc for weeks and months on end, then it is about their story, not about you. Move on.