The Generous Gift of a Gracious Apology

Even when a foul-up isn't your fault, it never hurts to smooth the ruffled feathers of those who were put out. Then it's time to move on

By Marjorie Brody

Q: I received a name and address from an area director of my company, which I passed along by e-mail and in a letter to the prospective traveler who would need it. The man was finally reached by phone when he didn't respond. He said he had received neither the e-mail nor the letter. Turns out the director gave me the wrong city and state, and left a dot out of the recipient's e-mail address!

The traveler ridiculed me in a subsequent e-mail for getting his address wrong, thinking I had typed it incorrectly. I scanned the area director's correspondence, then e-mailed it to the traveler (but not to the director) to prove that I had used the exact information given to me, and that there was no way of knowing the addresses provided were incorrect.

Then my boss slammed me, saying that I "made the director look bad," and that he could "take offense." I said that since the director had not apologized to me for providing the wrong details, and because I had trusted him to get them right, I was the one who should be offended.

My boss responded that I should have checked the address against the one we have on file, which he said would always be correct, regardless of what the director sends.

Who is right, me or my boss?


Do you want to win the battle or the war? Needless to say, the director gave you the wrong information, so your boss is incorrect. However, I still think you need to apologize to the prospective traveler for the inaccurate information. Have a sense of humor, and let it go. And in the future, check and double check anything this director gives you.

Pointedly Inattentive

Q: On a bulletin board at a Web site I visit, there's a question asking if it's OK to do needlework in order to help keep yourself awake while listening to a business-seminar speaker. I told her no. I don't think a person should fiddle with a cell phone, PDA, or anything else. I feel you should keep your eyes on the speaker. Would love to hear your answer.


As much as I hate to say this -- because I, too, do needlework (though never in that context) -- in the business environment, this behavior is less than professional. The woman should find other, less obvious methods to keep herself awake.

Is etiquette an issue in your office. BusinessWeek Online contributor Marjorie Brody is here to help settle spats before they ignite workplace wars. Drop her a line

Marjorie Brody is a professional speaker, executive coach, and author of 18 books, including Professional Impressions…Etiquette for Everyone, Every Day, and Career MAGIC: A Woman's Guide to Reward & Recognition. For more information on these and other titles go to BrodyCommunications, call 800 726-7936, or e-mail brodyetiquette.

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