IABC Communicator of the Year has a pattern of bad behavior. I’m not sure “I’m sorry” is enough.
We all screw up. When we do, it’s our responsibility to acknowledge it and apologize to those our mistake in someway damaged, hurt, disadvantaged or inconvenienced. Hopefully we learn and move on, never repeating the mistake.
But sometimes … sometimes apologies are hard to accept. I’m not just talking about faux-apologies like we heard recently from First Idiot Ted Nugent, either. I’m talking about apparently honest, heartfelt apologies that accept the blame and make no attempt to excuse the bad behavior.
Case in point. This morning my colleague Cat White forwarded along the story of Kelly Blazek, owner of a popular Cleveland job bank listserv and recipient of the 2013 “Communicator of the Year” award from the city’s chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators.
You really have to read this one to believe it. A 26 year-old job seeker, someone who apparently wasn’t deemed worthy of the service by virtue of, well, everything, made the mistake of asking Blazek if she could join. Blazek then hauled out the Gimp and went Medieval on her ass.
“We have never met. We have never worked together. You are quite young and green on how business connections work with senior professionals. Apparently you have heard that I produce a Job Bank, and decided it would be stunningly helpful for your career prospects if I shared my 960+ LinkedIn connections with you — a total stranger who has nothing to offer me.
“Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky. Wow, I cannot wait to let every 25-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job. Love the sense of entitlement in your generation. And therefore I enjoy denying your invite, and giving you the dreaded ‘I Don’t Know’ (scribbled-out name) because it’s the truth.
“Oh, and about your request to actually receive my Job Bank along with the 7,300 other subscribers to my service? That’s denied, too. I suggest you join the other Job Bank in town. Oh wait — there isn’t one.”
Her signoff: “Don’t ever write me again.”
Wow. I mean, it must be admitted that this is the sort of clear, concise, effective communication we might expect of a Communicator of the Year, if you can look past the gratuitous hatefulness of it all. I know I certainly understand the message she was intending to get across.
This being the digital age, though, things got all viral in a hurry, and Blazek found herself the focus of lots of unwanted attention. Like any good Communicator of the Year, she immediately set to apologizing, and she did so flawlessly. Seriously, this is a textbook example of how to behave when you need to say you’re sorry in public.
“My Job Bank listings were supposed to be about hope, and I failed that. In my harsh reply notes, I lost my perspective about how to help, and I also lost sight of kindness, which is why I started the Job Bank listings in the first place.
“The note I sent to Diana was rude, unwelcoming, unprofessional and wrong. I am reaching out to her to apologize. Diana and her generation are the future of this city. I wish her all the best in landing a job in this great town.”
Wonderful – all is well, right?
I don’t think so, for a couple of reasons.
First off, not all mistakes that require an apology are created equally. And I’m not just talking about magnitude. Mainly, it’s important to understand that there are honest mistakes and then there are mistakes that aren’t honest at all. I have found myself apologizing in the past, for instance, because I said something that upset someone. In one specific case, we were kidding around, everyone was talking smack, and I took a shot that was actually tame compared to some of what had been thrown my way. It was a joke, an innocent joke, an obvious joke, and on a 1-10 scale for general offensively couldn’t possibly have been ranked worse than a 2.
But everybody has hot buttons, and I had hit one of this guy’s. I had no way of knowing in advance it was a sensitive area, and honestly to this very day I don’t fully understand what it is that set him off. But he was gravely offended. I apologized, without reservation, right away, and did so a couple more times just to make sure that it was clear how very sorry I was to have hurt his feelings.
Compare that to the case of a politician who is caught in bed with a woman that his wife doesn’t know about. Or perhaps it becomes clear that he’s been frequenting hookers as a matter of habit for a long time. Or maybe he’s been sexting interns.
Worse – perhaps he’s been peddling influence (I know, I know – we now call this “fundraising,” but there are still some limits to how much you can sell out your office, and every few weeks it seems another pol finds him/herself in the news for all the wrong reasons.
And the gods help me, when I see where a rapist or killer or child abuser is apologizing to the victims and/or their families, it infuriates me.
You can see the difference, right? A Category A mistake is honest and unintended. A Category B mistake is premeditated and malicious and probably systemic. There’s an excuse for a Category A and no excuse whatsoever for a Category B.
Should we take the Category B’s apology seriously? Listen, Sen. Bedfellow knew he was cheating on his wife. It’s not like he thought his $grand-a-week hooker habit was maybe okay and, you know, he just never gave it any thought.
When you do something with malice aforethought that you ought to have known better than to do, fuck you and your apology. The only thing you’re sorry for is that you got caught.
This is how I think I feel about Blazek. For starters, no decent human could reasonably think that kind of behavior was okay, let alone a professional communicator. That’s immature, high school mean-girl hatefulness and you can’t help drawing some unflattering conclusions about the woman’s character from reading this reply. You try to remind yourself that you’re only seeing one small slice of a life and that’s hardly a sufficient sample size to be making sweeping judgments, but … I mean, we’ve all seen this kind of cattiness before and it rarely comes from the best people we know, you know?
Second, did you catch the same thing I did? Let’s look at that one sentence again.
In my harsh reply notes…
Do you see it? No? Let’s add some emphasis.
In my harsh reply notes…
Whoa. See that plural? I think she just told us that the note in question wasn’t the only one. We’re not seeing a one-off, a momentary lapse of judgment, an overreaction at the end of a hellishly frustrating day. This has happened before. We don’t know how many times, but as it turns out, at least three.
Blazek doesn’t owe me an apology. A couple of her victims have been gracious about it, and that’s a testament to their goodwill and professionalism. I personally have long thought our society is too quick to forgive appalling behavior, but maybe that’s just me.
But I live in a society that thinks everybody deserves a second chance, that if they dress their apology up pretty enough and do the bowed head humility ritual well enough that we ought to let bygones be bygones. Since I periodically have to deal with those who have been forgiven too easily and too often, I feel like I’m probably justified in calling bullshit on our daft willingness to enable the inexcusable. When we forgive the honest mistake, we are demonstrating humanity. When we accord the same level of forgiveness to those who mistakes were anything but honest, we make a joke of our humanity and basic judgment.
From what I can tell, Blazek has apologized to those whom she has been caught abusing (although I’m betting before all is said and done there will be a need for more apologies as more folks who have inadvertently antagonized her come forward). She wished them well in their job searches. But it doesn’t look like she offered to help them and it doesn’t look like she offered to add them to her job bank, which you’d think would be a fairly basic and obvious response in this situation, wouldn’t you?
Blazek is the Communicator of the Year and as such she hardly needs my counsel. But if she asked, I might suggest that for the Category B offender, talk is cheap. Show, don’t tell, I might say. By your actions shall they know you, etc.