Thursday, September 18, 2008

An angry conversation

The phone call came mid-morning.

"I understand you're the person I should be angry at," a male voice roared into my ear.

"You don't have to be angry with me if you don't want," I replied. "It is your choice."

He exploded into an explanation about why I was the person he should be angry with, why he had the right to be angry with me and why I was to blame for him missing an important story.

"What's wrong with you people?" he asked. "I'm here to sell newspapers. Stories are my coin. I get calls from the Premier, the Mayor, the Prime Minister. They know when they want to reach their audience, I can do it. I know they want me to tell their side. We understand each other. You people can't be bothered to give me a call."

Thank goodness for Choices.

We had a media conference on Tuesday morning to release a street level homeless count. This particular columnists name was left off the email distribution list.

It wasn't intentional. It wasn't personal. It was a mistake.

I acknowledged my mistake and my responsibility in his not receiving the report in question. "Your name was unfortunately not on my media list," I told him.

"Who made up the list?" he asked.

"It doesn't matter who made it," I told him. (I had a summer student working for me this summer who had updated the media list. His name wasn't on it to begin with. She wouldn't have the foresight to add it without my instruction.) "It is my responsibility to ensure news releases get to the right people. You didn't get it. I am 100% accountable."

"Harrumph." he muttered. "What's it take to get on your list?"

I could hear the sarcasm in his voice.

"You're on it now," I replied. "I just opened the file and ensured you were there."

"Doesn't help me with this story," he said.

"You're right. I apologize. How can I make amends?"

"You can't. But let me tell you. When someone does me wrong, I don't forget. I remember. It may take me ten years to even the score, but I will."

"I hear what you're saying. You're angry and you want to even the score. I can understand your motivation. In not sending you the information, I have cost you an important story you wanted to tell. My goal is to find a way to make amends."

We went on to talk for another 45 minutes. He climbed up and down. Told me about his frustration with social service agencies in this sector who act from a place of 'cultural entitlement', "just like some of your clients", he said. "You think the media should come to you. You have to reach out to us." He gave me ideas on how I could do my job better. How I could build a relationship with him and other columnists, not just the reporters.

He was right. I hadn't done my job well.

Now, there are many reasons why I had not cultivated his voice -- in particular, I'd had a directive from our Exec. Dir. to let him build the relationships with certain individuals. Doesn't really matter -- I had not included him in the distribution list -- which would have been a simple process.

And that's why I'm grateful to Choices. Rather than get defensive. To climb up on my high horse, to blame everyone and their dog for my mistake, I took ownership. Apologized and asked how I could make amends.

Before I hung up, I thanked him. "You've given me some great insight and ideas on how I can be more effective in my job," I told him. "And, you've given me an inspiring kick in the butt. I appreciate the time you've taken to talk to me today. I look forward to working with you on a more constructive and productive basis."

I had a list of three things I could do to make amends. And, I had some ideas on how I could be more effective in working with the media.

It was a win/win. His anger by the time we said good-bye had abated. He felt heard. I felt I'd gained a good understanding of his needs and how we could work together.

Before Choices, I would have been defensive. I would have been upset! I probably would have been shaking as he yelled in my ear and lost an opportunity to build stronger relationships, to grow. Rather than listening without taking ownership of his words and anger, I would have let it all sink in and let my tapes fire off about being less than, other than, not good enough.

What an awesome opportunity to grow. What a great opportunity to use my tools and soar.

The question is: Where do you let someone else's anger pull you from your path? Where do you let your defensiveness bring you down?


Anonymous said...


you give Choices too much credit and Louise doesn't get enough

your story is a great little case study though . . worth publishing, don'tcha think?


M.L. Gallagher said...

Hey Mark -- absolutely. Go for it. Thanks

Please visit Mark's site at: