Right is in the Eye of the Beholder

apples and orangesYou are going to do something wrong.  One day, in some shape or another, you are going to mess something up and tick someone off.

This is a certainty.

It will either be in your personal life, in your career or running your own business.

I do not want to get into your personal life, so let us just stick with career and business.

Here is something I have learned from both sides, within a career working for others and owning my own business: you can do everything absolutely right and you are still going to be wrong.

It is not a lovely concept, rather it is quite crappy.

However, it is imperative that you grasp this concept and do not let go: you can do everything right and still be wrong….in at least one person’s eyes.

What can happen when someone thinks you are wrong?  You could be fired, demoted, lose a contract, alienate a client, get bad press.  You get the idea.  It is not pleasant.

It is bad enough that someone thinks that you did something so badly that you lose your job or a key account, but the aftermath can be worse: having to explain it to your next employer, your boss or a prospect who heard bad reviews.

Here are a few things to help you not just survive this, but to move forward:

Do Not Take it Personally

Remember, we are talking about your career or your business and that is the key: this is business.  If you let it cross the line into personal it will start to fester and grow in a dark and twisty place inside of you.  Even if they say something personal about you – do not take it personally.  This is business.

Do Not Argue

It will do you absolutely no good whatsoever to point out how the other person was in fact wrong and you were right.  Guess what, they do not care.  In their mind you were wrong, it does not matter that you have comprehensive proof of the 15 things they did wrong; you did just one and that was enough for them.  This leads me to the next point, which is in partnership with this one:

Do Not Keep Score

This is not a relationship of tit for tat.  You do not both have the same rules so therefore score does not matter.  You are at an elevated playing field: you are expected to provide a level of service, no matter if it is for a client or your boss.  You are providing a service, they are receiving it; it is not a level playing field. More is expected of you, period. 

I had a client who continually procrastinated.  It would take several days or weeks to respond to the smallest item, and that was after reminders.  However, when I did not respond once in the same day I then became the bad guy.  I was providing bad service because I did not immediately return his call that one time. 

Do Not Dwell

Again, this will happen at some point in your career or in your business, accept this fact and let it go.  When it happens do the best you can and then let it go.  There are just some bosses, co-workers and clients that you cannot predict this behavior or change them.  Once it happens, consider yourself schooled in a powerful life lesson.  You will survive.

We have covered the what not to do’s, now for the what to do’s.

Take Ownership

I once heard there are three sides to every story: yours, theirs and the truth that lies somewhere in between the other two.  In some way, you have an element of accountability and ownership, no matter how small.  Find it, accept it and take ownership of that piece, only.

Apologize Without an Excuse or Accusation

Give a genuine apology, not an excuse.  More than likely you do feel bad that they are upset, apologize.  Empathize with where they are coming from to be able to give them a genuine apology.  You can start with, “I am sorry you feel that way…”

The most important part of the apology is what you leave out of it: an accusation or an excuse.  You will add fuel to the fire if you start your apology with, “I am sorry you feel that way, but I did what I was told…” or “I am sorry you feel that way, it was John’s fault for not giving me the information.”

Ask and Listen

Ask what you can do to improve or salvage the situation or relationship.  This is step two after apologizing, the third step is just as critical: listen to their answer.  Take off your blinders and angry ears and really listen to what they have to say.

You might learn there was a breakdown in communication, i.e. they misunderstood something you said.  This is a lesson and opportunity for you to be more clear, which is easily fixable.  Or, you might learn that they are just bat-crazy.  Personal example: I had a woman who was very upset and when I apologized and asked what I can do to make this right, she never gave me any thoughts, ideas or suggestions.  Instead the things she said were so off the wall and unrelated to the work that I realized she was just a really unhappy person who had engaged others for the work and with each one it was the same routine: get as much as she could from someone and then complain to try to get her money back without justification or cause.

Follow Up

This is your career and your business, so you must decide if it is worth putting the work into the relationship.  Go back after the dust settles and thank them for communicating with you and allowing you to move forward. 

Move On

Once you have done all that you can to be cordial, salvage the situation or relationship it is time to let it go and stop beating yourself up (or mentally the other person).  Redirect your efforts to your current endeavors and clients.  Re-evaluate those relationships using this experience to ensure that you are communicating clearly, expectations are known by all parties, the relationships are healthy and that you are not just reaching out and talking to people when there is a problem.


What if you are fired?  How do you convey that to the next employer?  Many of the same rules apply: do not play the blame game, take accountability for your part and most importantly convey the valuable lesson you learned and how you have used it to your advantage to be better.


I am not sure who said you will never please all people all the time, but they sure got it right.  Just remember to handle the situation in a professional manner and you will survive this a little wiser.  If you find yourself wanting to do any of the don’t do’s just remember one of my mother’s favorite sayings: two wrongs do not make a right.


Have I missed any tips?  What are some situations that you have encountered and how have you handled them? 


Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer


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