I got a surprising apology today and made a surprise apology. A few days ago someone in my office had a bit of a melt down which included some yelling, at no one in particular, and punching a cubicle wall. He’s been working days straight with little sleep, hadn’t eaten all day and he just needed to vent. It happens here. At times the pressure can be enormous and the stress intense. What pushed him over the edge was a global email reminding employees to be considerate when driving through the parking lot and essentially identifying him and singling him out as an inconsiderate driver. Although he wasn’t named, he drives a unique car and the car was described. We all who he is and what kind of car he drives. This isn’t that big of a place and we all knew who it was by the description of the car. Whoopee. No one got hurt, there are no children playing in the lot and we are all grown ups who should know to watch for cars when walking through a parking lot. I’ve seen more deviant behavior here than speeding in the parking lot including the way the situation was handled by the higher ups. Regardless, he was asked by the higher ups to apologize for his outburst.
So this morning he came by my cubicle and began his apology which was very genuine and in my mind completely unnecessary. I wasn’t even here and he didn’t yell at me…and it seems I helped push him over the edge. I thought the situation was funny. It was humorous to me that he was essentially called out via a global email for reckless driving. We all knew who it was and I had been standing around with some coworker talking about it and how everyone knew whose car it was. We all thought it was funny. I assumed he had already read the email when he walked by and I casually asked him if he was still driving a _____ (I’d rather not further perpetuate my part in this by identifying his car again). He pleasantly responded that yes and told me he recently bought a new one and his nonchalance made me realize that he hadn’t read the email yet. If he had I’m certain he would have started ranting immediately since he is a bit of an angry man. Ranting with coworkers would have probably defused the situation. It didn’t happen.
So during his “apology” we talked about my part in tipping him and I apologized for it. He acknowledged that my comment certainly wasn’t the cause but didn’t help. I do feel bad for the comment and making him feel worse but also still see more humor than anything in the situation. But during that apology time which turned into a 45 minute chat, I learned more about him than I had known in the almost 11 years that I’ve worked with him and now better understand why he reacted the way he did. During our chat I tried to let him know how ridiculous I thought the whole thing was and that he shouldn’t sweat it. I think when you can laugh at yourself you’re better off and this is a laughable situation. “Sure”, I said, “you drive too fast but the people who complained walk too slow.” He didn’t find any humor in that either.
After our chat we left both in good standing with each other and I think with a better understanding of whom each of us is. I was glad he understood that I meant no harm with my comment and I think he was glad that his behavior left no bad feelings with me. I reaffirmed in myself that I don’t let the little things like a needless public wrist slap bother me and understand better why it bothers him. I find humor in situations like these. He does not. Of course it’s easier to see the humor when the light is on someone else and I hope I would see the absurdity if the circumstances were reversed. I think I would…either way I‘ll drive slowly in the parking lot and if I get needlessly called out in a broadcast email, I’ll remember not to loose my temper although I was glad for the chance to get to know the angry man better.