Friday, 30 March 2012

The apology

This is a story about how reluctant people are to say 'I'm sorry'.

First - the complaint

When our estate agents rang us to book another house viewing, we spent a frantic hour or two cleaning and putting the house in order: plumping the cushions, polishing the taps, evicting the spiders..!

We usually make ourselves scarce during a viewing, so the prospective buyers can have a good nose around without thinking they are going to upset or embarrass us. On this occasion we planned a visit to the local garden centre, where we were going to reward our hard work with breakfast. Ten minutes before 'they' were scheduled to arrive, we took ourselves and Rufus, our dog, out of the house, ready to depart. We planned to hand over to the agent, so imagine our surprise when we were greeted on the drive by the young couple who wanted to look around. 

Like all estate agents, ours promotes their service of accompanying all viewings, so we decided to keep this couple company until he arrived. We chatted happily about the area, our respective jobs, where we all came from etc. At 5 minutes past the appointment time, we were all getting a bit twitchy about the agent's absence and a little later I rang his office, who said they would find out what was happening. We agreed that if he wasn't with us in another 10 minutes we would show the couple around ourselves.

Nigel and I were jolly glad we'd waited rather than beating a hasty retreat to the garden centre. And eventually we showed the young couple around. 30 minutes after the appointment time, we had a call saying the agent was about 15 minutes away having been held up at his previous appointment. He must have decided it was no longer worth attending, because he didn't arrive on our doorstep that day. 

Then - the outcome

The young people didn't put in an offer for our house. I don't think we can really lay this at the agent's door. The house just wasn't right for them - and we had already known they were right at the beginning of their house-hunting project, when they were not completely clear about what they were looking for. 

As they left they automatically offered us an apology for the initial upset - until we all laughed about them apologising for our agent's behaviour.

Finally - the apology

While the estate agent's office responded to the situation and took immediate steps to find out what was happening, there was no hint of an apology for the confusion and inconvenience caused. (Our visitors had other appointments pressing - and you can imagine by now we were famished!)

Later in the afternoon, the young man who should have been with us several hours earlier, rang and left a message. "Hello Mr and Mrs Heath. I've rung with a sort of apology ...." He said more by way of explanation but I never got beyond the 'sort of apology'. 

Now I know businesses are always mindful about not incurring liability by admitting guilt - but I cannot subscribe to this mindset. A simple apology would have had me understanding in moments about the problems of being in a poor telephone signal area and unexpected delays at another viewing. 

I'm glad to say when I rang back and explained my complaint about his lack of proper apology, he took my comments on the chin and came back with a very sincere 'sorry'. Has this marred our relationship with our agents? No - because we're now confident he understands our needs for more positive and clear communication - and believe he has even more reason to get it right in future.

All we want now, in this fine Spring weather, is another viewing!

Can you say 'sorry'? 

They say, 'saying sorry is the hardest thing' - and it certainly seems our culture conspires to make it even harder. If saying sorry means being a failure or implies guilt in life generally, then this perception is easily transeferred to relationships, making it difficult to own up to mistakes or bad behaviour. 

And that's a great shame - because saying 'sorry' heals many wounds, easily and quickly before they fester. Being in love does not mean never saying sorry!

We teach our couples how to give a sincere 'sorry' without losing face or placing blame.

Get in touch, if you want to learn more about how to say sorry without feeling a failure. 

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