“We can make a time for you on Monday, is that okay?”
“No,” I answered, “but I don’t think I have a choice.”
Yeah, I was THAT blunt (but, I said it nicely.)
“No,” she agreed.
This was at the eye glass store after I had waited days for an appointment.
I had called on Tuesday.
They were closed, so I left a message.
Friday came, I had not heard back from them.
I called again and told them my daughter and I wanted to come and look at eyeglass frames.
They gave us an appointment for the next day, Saturday.
Or, so, I thought.
When we got there, they said that they could only see ONE of us.
After a week of calls and waiting, I was kinda frustrated.
(And if you know me, you know I don’t get prickly very easily.)
I was pretty sure I had mentioned on the phone that there were two of us.
While I can take responsibility for my bluntness, I also want to talk about their mistake.
This is something that can cost businesses customers.
They took no responsibility for the miscommunication.
More importantly, they showed no empathy for my situation and gave me no way to empathize with theirs.
When I explained my attempts to be in touch and the responses I had received, they just said they still couldn’t see me.
I felt dismissed and redirected.
As long as they just said, “Sorry, we can’t do that, you can come on Monday.” It felt like I was talking to something inanimate that didn’t see, hear or care about me.
I let it go, relaxed and they seemed okay for me to try some frames anyway.
By the end of our time there, my daughter and had a nice rapport with a different sales person.
So, I asked her if she could help me understand why my original voice message hadn’t been heard and no one had responded.
Were they particularly busy?
Once she was real with me and shared that they are short staffed and working two sites, I could empathize.
All it takes is being real and giving someone a way to empathize with you.
As soon as I could empathize, the feeling of being deflected and dismissed fizzled away.
So why didn’t they do it? Why do we all miss that step so often?
Because we have an idea that saying “Sorry” shows weakness.
And because we don’t want to be “at fault.” That would make us blameworthy.
Being blamed makes us feel weak or ashamed.
But, there is a way to empathize, and to take responsibility that shows strength, not weakness.
You know it, because you respect the people who do it.
You go back to the businesses who after a mistake, take responsibility and make an accommodation as a gesture towards relationship.
When you respond from “being right” and not from relationship, the other person feels ignored, unheard and unseen.
When you accept responsibility and empathize, you open communication and step into a relationship where the other person can feel valued.
Notice the next time a restaurant, store, or business steps into the vulnerability with you and notice how it eases the tension when they are ready to accept responsibility and honor the relationship.
If you are brave, try it in a conversation and see what happens. Instead of getting defensive, allow the feeling of vulnerability and while still standing strong with it, accept responsibility.
In almost every case, it will ease and diffuse tension.
Leah Zimmerman is an Intergenerational Resolving Conflict Expert and Family Business Advisor who makes hard conversations easy. She blends her background in education, theater, personal development and spirituality to create transformational conversations for individuals, teams and families. Find Leah on Linkedin at to learn more.