I made a big mistake
July 24, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

I just squandered a great professional opportunity. Help me repair relations with a professional contact, or at the very least prevent becoming a pariah at a very important company.

I'm a freelancer, and have been looking for more work. I've also been looking into in-house positions in New York, and have made a visit to New York in order to meet with a few people at the bigger companies in my industry.

I was lucky to score a breakfast with a higher-up at the biggest company in my industry (they represent about 75% of the industry). I explained to her that I was a professional in the industry, running my own consultancy and with a great deal of experience, and that I'd like to meet and discuss this with her, as well as discuss possibilities of working with her company. She set a date for breakfast in Manhattan. I had basically booked a ticket to New York for this very meeting.

Then I made the stupidest mistake I've made in the past ten years; I confused the date and accidentally stood her up! I realized about an hour after our scheduled time, so I think she probably ended up waiting for me at the cafe.

This is something I never do, and the timing of it is horrible. There are not many companies that do what I do, and these guys are the biggest. This meeting could have resulted in more freelance work or even an in-house position. What's more, I'm concerned it'll affect my ability to find work with the company at all (i.e. "That guy? He stood me up at breakfast. I wouldn't trust him on this project.") OR in the industry at large.

I called her after I realized I had stood her up and left her a message, apologising profusely and saying that I had no excuse but that I had confused the date. I emailed her as well, to the same effect. I thanked her again for her generosity in agreeing to meet with me, and mentioned that, if she'd be willing to give me another chance, I'd be able to visit her in the office this week at a time most convenient to her.

She hasn't responded at all, to my email or my phone call.

Clearly she thinks I'm a flake and she probably believes I don't take this very seriously. I would feel the same way. Especially when this work is project management related, and attention to details like DATES are incredibly important.

I'm going to follow up with her by email in a day or two, to thank her again for agreeing to meet and to let her know that I'd still be able to swing by the office or speak with her over the phone if she'd be willing to give me a chance. I'm trying to think about the right tone for this message, and if she's no longer interested in having a discussion with me, I'd at least like to send her a message that would at least minimize the damage to my reputation. Would appreciate any advice on how best to go about this, and what the best approach would be to this bit of correspondence.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you've already left her a voicemail and an email, I think following up in a couple of days comes off as totally desperate. Either she's willing to give you another chance and she'll get back to you when she has the time or she's not and she wont. Unless she's already forgotten about it, I can't think of anything you could say in another follow up that would change her mind.
posted by missmagenta at 9:14 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Hello friend! Just yesterday I made a similar grievous professional error and missed a presentation I was supposed to give and left someone in a very awkward position. Maybe it helps to know you are not alone out there. That feeling in the pit of the stomach when you realize what happened is the worst, huh?

It was a wakeup call for me that I am not on top of my professional life right now and need to adjust my work habits accordingly. In retrospect, given how overloaded I was, an error of this type was inevitable sooner or later. Anyway, there is no excuse and no redemption for this kind of mistake, and in my case having spoken briefly on the phone I am following it up with a more formal apology letter, which is appropriate in my case because my mistake had consequences. In your case, having asked for her time, been granted it, and squandered it, I don't think a request for a second chance is reasonable. There is not much more you can really do except offer a brief unconditional apology (in which you do not ask for anything).
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:27 AM on July 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

You have one "get out of jail" card : self - deprecating humor. This will offer you the chance to save face , keep from desperation, and the oppty for her to forgive a human mistake. Use it wisely in your next and final call to her (no email, you want to have the chance at a live conversation if she picks up).

Call from an alternate number before the start of business day or shortly after 5 pm, 7 days after your last attempt (no sooner, no later).
posted by Kruger5 at 9:27 AM on July 24, 2012

Well, I'm not sure this will work, but if this happened to me, I would probably soften up if the flake sent me a decent bottle of wine with a short note that said, "I can't apologize enough, I feel terrible! I hope this leaves a better taste than my mistake. I'll try calling next week in hopes of re-connecting." And then if you don't get through, that's it, leave it be. Try in person if your paths eventually cross in the normal course of business.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:36 AM on July 24, 2012 [10 favorites]

I would send breakfast to the office, for the office. Muffins, bagels, whatever it is that is traditional in your field of work.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:41 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

How long has it been since this happened? I think that's really important because if it's been, say, a day, since the mistake happened, my advice would be different than if it's been a week. OP, can you please clarify?

Generally though, I don't think accidentally standing someone up is a blacklistable offense (usually) and you've apologised and offered an alternate meeting. This is probably all I would do, but I think that thinkpiece's idea (minus the "I'll try calling") isn't a bad one because it's a nice gesture but leaves the ball in her court to reach out and thank you - thus re-connecting. I think anything else is over the top.
posted by sm1tten at 9:49 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

While on a human level it was an unfortunate event, on a business level it's no big deal. These things happen, and at least you admitted your mistake.

There seems to be the assumption that this meeting was going to pay off somehow in terms of business development, and I can't see that. It was just a networking meeting, and the process from moving from initial meeting like this to contract can be pretty long, and can also never result in anything.

So don't sweat the perceived opportunity cost too much, and instead focus on other lead gen activities (we typically have great success forming relationships on LinkedIn, for example, just answering questions).
posted by KokuRyu at 10:04 AM on July 24, 2012

If it was an opportunity I really, really wanted, I'd send something the following email about five to seven days after your last communication. And if it doesn't work, I'd chalk it up to live and learn.

Dear X,

I'm hoping you can see your way to allowing me to grovel for forgiveness in person. I'm a normally meticulous person who made a spectacular error as I was hoping for a great professional opportunity. If it isn't possible to see past my failure, I do understand. Please know that I deeply admire company X and I hope that at some point we can do business together.


posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:08 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

KokoRyu makes a really good point. When we're in the middle of these networking situations where we - however briefly - have the ear of someone who has an in somewhere desirable, it can be very easy to psychologically escalate the event from "Oh, cool, an informational meeting," to "MY DREAM JOB IS A FRAGILE BIRD EGG SITTING HERE IN THE PALM OF MY SWEATY HAND AND IF I DO A SINGLE THING SUBOPTIMALLY I WILL PULVERIZE IT."

Which is not to say, of course, that this wasn't a mistake, but it sounds like this wasn't even an interview, really. There is a better than good chance that you could have shown up, done everything perfectly, charmed her to death with your intellect and wit and sparkling good looks, and you still might have never heard from her again. So - you did not commit a mistake that's going to ruin your life and you didn't throw away your golden ticket. I'd say the first order of business would be to knock down the importance of this meeting a couple of notches in your brain.

Post-that, I like the idea of sending wine with thinkpiece's note (except, yes, leave off the part about calling.) Then leave the next move up to her. If she gets in touch, great. If she doesn't, think about how nothing might have come of it anyway and comfort yourself with the fact that you'll probably never ever mess up the date of another meeting in your entire life.
posted by superfluousm at 10:19 AM on July 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm hoping you can see your way to allowing me to grovel for forgiveness in person. I'm a normally meticulous person who made a spectacular error as I was hoping for a great professional opportunity . If it isn't possible to see past my failure , I do understand. Please know that I deeply admire company X and I hope that at some point we can do business together.

I'm really turned off by this hyperbolic, melodramatic language. Perhaps it is that I've recently been reviewing resumes from college student and recent graduates, but this would not strike me as professional, indeed, it would further cultivate any concerns I had about OPs professionalism. I probably wouldn't respond to this email.

If you simply must use this language, please at a bare minimum don't use the word "grovel".

I would focus on the fact that from her perspective, this was a slight inconvenience, and she likely moved on with her day without thinking much more about it. Much of the significance of the missed meeting comes from the fact that you flew across the country essentially for the meeting. At this point, you have to accept the trip wasn't fruitful and even a waste of your time, and settle for not making the situation worse - I wouldn't necessarily remember the guy who stood me up for breakfast and apologized, but I can guarantee I would remember the guy who begged for a chance to "grovel" for his "spectacular error". Send breakfast for the office with a brief note. When you see her again (because you will likely see her again in the near future given the size of your industry, yes?) introduce yourself, briefly apologize, and see if she is interested in talking.
posted by arnicae at 10:23 AM on July 24, 2012 [13 favorites]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
This happened yesterday morning. I thought about calling today, but maybe it's best to give it a little bit of time... love the idea about sending breakfast.
posted by cortex at 10:50 AM on July 24, 2012

Hmmn, I think the over-the-top hyperbole is funny, and grovel is the perfect word!
posted by thinkpiece at 10:51 AM on July 24, 2012

I'm afraid if you did this you are officially a bit of a flake. Whether you think so or not is irrelevant. You do not want to do anything else flaky like sending muffins or grovelling apologies. Your best bet is to let the dust settle and then, in a month or two, send a very professional letter apologizing politely and asking for a redo.
posted by unSane at 11:28 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

> Hmmn, I think the over-the-top hyperbole is funny, and grovel is the perfect word!

I completely disagree; like arnicae, I would not take seriously anyone who wrote like that. Sure, people are different, but I sure wouldn't bet my career on Ms. Powerful Higher-Up having thinkpiece's quirky sense of humor.

On the other hand, I agree with KokuRyu and superfluousm that you're putting too much weight on this missed opportunity and should just move forward and try to avoid doing this kind of thing in future.
posted by languagehat at 12:08 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would send breakfast to the office, for the office. Muffins, bagels, whatever it is that is traditional in your field of work.

Can anyone else weigh in on this? I think this is odd. Then again, I very much dislike the idea of food as gifts, because of the prevalence of food allergies. I truly think that sending breakfast to the office is a little folksy and unprofessional.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 12:46 PM on July 24, 2012

I would call her assistant or someone you know in her office to see how torqued off she really was. If she thought nothing of it, hey, try again. I'd go to NY for something else and chance a drive-by for a quick handshake and perhaps setting up another meeting.

Me, I'd be miffed, but I'd give you another chance. I find it odd that you didn't get any calls or texts from her, as I'd be all up in your kool-ade. "Hey! Anon, are we on for today or what?"

Next time (and there will be a next time, don't fret) be sure to follow up a day before with a short email: "I'll be arriving at LGA at 6:00 AM, and meeting you in the city at Sarabeth's at 8:00. I'll let you know if there's a hitch."

That way you can head off any hassles with missing dates.

Also, just to echo some others here, this is pretty bad, especially as you had planned to fly in for the meeting. So did you buy the ticket for the wrong day, or did you just flake totally on the whole trip? That is a lot bigger than getting the day wrong for coffee. You totally blanked on a plane ride, appointment, etc.

Get your shit together.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:08 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreed with lakersfan. Usually bagels and muffins of the sort that are sent to offices aren't very good anyways and more of nuisance. A bottle of wine seems closer to the mark somehow, assuming she drinks wine (any way to confirm this?). Though, a gift of wine to someone in an office *could* be a potential source of embarrassment, akin to receiving flowers. If she likes spirits, a bottle of whatever she prefers might have less romantic baggage. Who knows, maybe she loves craft beer and a 6 pack of something nice would be a thoughtful gesture without the romantic trappings of wine or the variety of trappings of hard liquor.

Does she have a receptionist you could call up? Not to inquire about rescheduling, but to ask if she has a preference? You might even get some implied, if not direct, feedback regarding your gaff (in the receptionist's tone possibly).

Assuming she got your VM and email, you don't need to say too much on the note with whatever you send if you go that route.

Finding the right balance of humility, perseverance, and doing the right thing might make things right, and even increase your standing in her eyes.
posted by schmoppa at 1:11 PM on July 24, 2012

This is fixable. One last sincere mea culpa gesture is an excellent idea. I like thinkpiece's note a lot, minus the part about reconnecting. You've already mentioned rescheduling, so this should just be an apology without any self-interest. Accompanying the note, I would send something directly to her, not the whole office, and, while I personally like the idea of the bottle of wine, the muffins or something similar could work, too. I always hesitate when it comes to food not just because of allergies but also since someone might be dieting or something. True, you may send a bottle of alcohol to someone who doesn't drink, but if that isn't common knowledge, it won't be a faux pas, and she can easily re-gift it. You could also send a gourmet coffee and/or tea gift. I find most people enjoy a good cup of tea, and a fancy tea sampler can be enjoyed while working or relaxing. Of course, there's always flowers, but I vote for tea.
posted by katemcd at 1:12 PM on July 24, 2012

Even though it was business, stood up is stood up, and honestly, it is the kind of thing that sets women's blood a-boiling (maybe men too -- just saying I hear women drop to a whisper when relating they've been stood up). She needs a little bit of coaxing to come around. Flowers, too romance-y. Bagels & muffins, too impersonal. Beer, no matter how well-crafted, still just a six-pack of beer. I could see some great coffee beans, or some or artisan food thing or even a gift certificate to a nice restaurant? Me, I'd be happy with the wine and it would make me smile and say, Eh, ok, I'm done being mad. Good luck.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:39 PM on July 24, 2012

A flake is someone who does something like this and does not quickly realize their mistake and apologise. Or they apologize but do it more than once.

I fucking HATE flakes with a fiery vengeance. A characteristic of flakes is that they do stuff like this and go their way rejoicing, all unapologetic or at best "tee hee you know how disorganized I am! I am so cute lolz!!!1!!!" and very often they do it deliberately. Death's too good for them.

You by contrast, are person who made a mistake - albeit a big one - and apologised for it. That's all you can do. If she won't even reply to say, "oh well, sorry we won't be able to meet then" it's not really very polite of her on the most basic interpersonal level. She doesn't owe you another meeting, but she could at least take your apology for what it was.

Apologising more, or badgering her for further contact, isn't really going to help here. You just have to accept it and move on. Perhaps at best you could send her a handwritten letter in about a week's time (Miss Manners, cartridge pen, blue-black ink) saying how much you regret wasting her time, and leave it at that.
posted by tel3path at 2:45 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Jesus, you're all overthinking this. Don't send flowers or wine or a breakfast basket, and don't send some overwrought email where you flay your guts out, even self-deprecatingly.

You apologized, that's great. Give it a few days and then ask to meet again, offering to come to her office or whatever's most convenient so that she won't be put out. If you want to give an option, mention that you're happy to meet with a colleague of hers if that's easier, in case she actually is annoyed with you.

I do a lot of meetings, and people make errors like this with me probably every other week; I do this once every few months myself. It's not a big deal unless you make it one.
posted by anildash at 4:28 PM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I agree with anildash. The rest of these responses are...odd.
posted by dfriedman at 5:20 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Over the top hyperbole, funny or not, is a terrible idea. Self-deprecating humor is completely inappropriate in this situation. If someone tried that on me, I'd think of them as an unprofessional idiot. Sorry for the harsh language - but please don't do that!

I think breakfast for the entire office is overkill, but a bottle of wine for the particular person you stood up would be a nice gesture.

If you're a freelancer, you need to be more on top of your calendar. Have a physical calendar and an electronic calendar, and update them both. Set alarms for important events. Dummy check your meetings each week. This was completely avoidable - to reiterate, probably not a big deal - but still, completely avoidable.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:29 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are two personality traits that you have demonstrated in this situation, which I think it is important to separate from each other so that you can distinguish the two.

1) Professional Incompetence
This is the reason why you are unlikely to get the job. Keeping deadlines is incredibly important in the professional world and if you could somehow miss something so huge as a plane flight to another city, then you are a risky investment and - in the higher-up's shoes - I would never hire you. It wouldn't be personal, it would simply be a calculation: people who screw up so something this basic are likely to screw up other things too.

2) Personal Disrespect
As a busy person myself, my time is one of my most valuable possessions. The most insulting thing anybody can do is blatantly waste it, as you did for this woman. If somebody did that, it would be a personal insult. I wouldn't just minimize contact, I would actively talk smack about you to my colleagues and industry associates.

I don't think there's anything you can do to fix the first issue, since that's a reasonable and impartial judgement that she is basing on hard evidence, but I do think you can fix the second, so that she doesn't poison the well for you with her network. If you focus exclusively on trying to demonstrate that you are sincerely sorry for wasting her time (the bottle of wine, for instance, would be a nice touch), you can probably get her to shift from active hostility to ambivalence. However, it's important that you don't try to solicit a second meeting when you are apologizing, since this makes your apology seem utterly fake and self-serving. Accept that this second chance to conduct business with her is probably never happening, and focus on the more-attainable goal of making the executive you stood up stop hating you.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:46 AM on July 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have to second anildash's surprise at the vehemence of these responses.

I would agree with that you showed professional incompetence by mixing up the time, but it's really not an uncommon mistake. It's bad, but it's not unfixable and it's not the worst thing that anybody has ever done. I'm extremely strict about things like this and even I have made a mistake of this kind - only once in my entire life, but it was a high-stakes situation. I was forgiven.

If she had flown to your city for the specific purpose of meeting you, then I would agree that this is a galactic-level mistake. Since you flew to her city, this is still a colossal mistake, but the consequences of it are landing more on you than on her. You still wasted her time, and it's bad, but not bad enough to completely destroy your career and reputation forever.

As for personal disrespect - it's only disrespectful if you don't quickly realize your mistake, apologize, and offer to make it up to her. If you had given the impression that you weren't serious or that you had so many better things to do that she just wasn't uppermost in your mind - or, worse, that you were doing it deliberately - that would be disrespectful. You did not disrespect her, you made a mistake.

I'm weirded out by the disconnect between the level of out-and-out blatant disrespect that people routinely get away with in the real world of professional interaction, and the standards people are holding you to here. Clearly, the quality of mercy is not MeFi.
posted by tel3path at 6:14 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm weirded out by the disconnect between the level of out-and-out blatant disrespect that people routinely get away with in the real world of professional interaction, and the standards people are holding you to here. Clearly, the quality of mercy is not MeFi.

It is one thing to miss a meeting with a supplier or a business colleague of a similar standing. It's quite another to do it with someone of a substantially higher status, for what was quite clearly in important meeting (to the OP).

Punctuality -- and turning up at all -- is one of those markers, like grammar and spelling, that people use as a heuristic to make judgements about other people's personality and aptitudes.

It's also a status marker. In my business, it's absolutely routine to have meetings cancelled or rescheduled five minutes after they were supposed to have started, but *only by the person with the power*. When you do this to someone who you approaching as a client or potential employer, you just don't do this, because it sends the message that you don't mind fucking with them.

Of course people make dumb mistakes. But you have to live with them. If you are trying to dig yourself out of a hole which painted you in an unprofessional light, the best thing you can do is act professionally.
posted by unSane at 9:18 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

As for personal disrespect - it's only disrespectful if you don't quickly realize your mistake, apologize, and offer to make it up to her.

No, really. It's disrespectful even if you do all that. The message you send is 'the meeting wasn't important enough for me to get the date and time right'. Everything subsequent to that is damage control.
posted by unSane at 9:20 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, if an unqualified apology proffered immediately upon realising the mistake, accompanied by assurances that the meeting is important to the miscreant and that their error is not typical nor is it an expression of poor attitude - if that doesn't count as acting professionally, then I'm not sure what does.

The idea that mistakes are only forgivable if you're powerful enough doesn't sit well with me, as I don't subscribe to the view that might makes right. Many people do, though, and in that worldview apologies generally aren't accepted - nor are they usually offered as people don't want to abase themselves for nothing.

Anyway, it's all moot since the invitee wasn't interested enough to get back to the OP. It's even possible that she didn't write the meeting down and wasn't waiting for him in the first place, which has always been my experience when I've flown across continents at my own expense for meetings like this. "oh, we called your hotel at (15min before meeting), Myrtle isn't in today. By the way, you do know that the job you were talking about has already been filled, right?" leaving me in no doubt whatsoever as to who was the more powerful. She probably saw the OP's apology email and thought, what meeting? Huh, today feels like Thursday, and put it out of her mind a millisecond later never to be thought of again,
posted by tel3path at 5:21 PM on July 25, 2012

I suggest not calling her office to try to get information from her assistant as stated in a comment above. If you do this and are lucky, it will not be mentioned to the executive, but the chance that it is mentioned will only add to her memory of associating you and your mistake.

And you are a freelancer looking for a job. Don't send any big shot statement gifts.
posted by spec80 at 9:23 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

« Older Is there an intentional time-delay delivery...   |   In-use terms with anachronistic referents Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.