how to say “it’s not okay” at work

A reader writes:

Is there a professionally acceptable way to push back when someone apologizes for causing problems at work?

For example, this morning, my coworker slept through a meeting we had scheduled. Since I’m on the west coast (we’re a remote team) this meeting required me to wake up at 5 am. She messaged me two hours later saying, “Whoops, I totally spaced on this meeting. Sorry!” My normal response would be to say something like, “It’s okay! When can we reschedule?” But it’s sort of … not okay! Not just because I woke up early, but because I was unprepared for my next meeting as a result.

This has happened in other situations, with both people more senior and more junior than me, and I never know how to respond when someone apologizes for something that caused real inconvenience (particularly when that apology seems insincere/like they don’t understand the harm done). Is there a response other than “it’s okay!” to an apology?

Yes! But it’s only appropriate to use it in certain situations.

If someone seems to genuinely understand they inconvenienced you or caused a problem and it’s not part of a pattern, you’re generally better off letting it go. They already get that they messed up, so there’s no need for you to belabor that point. Still, though, that doesn’t mean you need to respond with “it’s okay” or “no problem” when it’s not okay and it was a problem. Instead, go with something like “This stuff happens; we’ll work it out” or (in response to an apology) “Thanks, I appreciate it.”

However, if the person is being cavalier about what happened — like with the colleague who missed your crack-of-dawn meeting — it’s worth saying something a bit more pointed. If you don’t, the person may go away thinking it wasn’t a big deal and is more likely to repeat the mistake in the future.

Sometimes the easiest way to make your point is to focus on what you’re asking them to do differently in the future and why. For example, when your coworker said she’d spaced on the meeting, you could have said, “Ah, I was wondering what happened to you! I’d gotten myself up at 5 am for the call, so can we reschedule for a time that’s later in the day so I’m not doing that twice?”

If she were senior to you and you needed to be more delicate about it, you could say, “Since I’m three hours behind you, I had to get up at 5 am for the call today. Any chance we can reschedule for 9 am PT or later?”

Or if a coworker seemed cavalier about missing a deadline that then caused you to miss your own deadline, you could say, “The reason I needed it by this morning was so I’d be able to get Jane’s final sign-off before it’s due to the printer this afternoon. I’ll figure out a way to make this work, but if you need more time in the future, it’s much easier on my end if you can give me more notice that I’ll need to adjust other people’s pieces of the schedule.”

All of these convey “this wasn’t great” while still keeping you within normal professional conventions — where we’re mostly expected to pretend we’re not seething even if if we are. (There are some exceptions to that, but they’re generally for more egregious things. If the issue is something unsafe or illegal, you don’t need to use this approach.)

But again, if the person already gets that they caused you real inconvenience and they aren’t being cavalier about it, you don’t need to drive the point home. In those cases, you can go with “I understand, stuff happens!” or something similar — because they already get it, and they’ll usually appreciate the grace.

However, if someone is messing up in the same way repeatedly (cavalierly or not), then you’d want to address the pattern. For example: “I know you’re really busy, but in order for me to be able to plan other people’s pieces of the timeline, I need to have a better idea of when you’ll really get your draft back to me. A few times now we’ve ended up missing printer cut-offs or scrambling late at night because your pieces came in late. What can I do on my end to make sure I’m working with realistic timelines for your drafts?” (You’re asking what you can do, but the subtext is “someone needs to do something differently” and often they’ll realize it’s them.)

{ 119 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennifer*

    Yeah, if it’s a one time screw up and they understand the inconvenience they caused, I agree with showing some grace. You don’t have to say “no problem” because it was a problem, as Alison said, but I agree that something like, “I understand things happen sometimes,” is kinder because they are already beating themselves up.

    I think this is a great question because it reminds me of how I am trying to apologize less in general, but especially at work for things that aren’t really my fault. I think I also default to saying “no problem” when there actually was a problem. I don’t want to be man but I also don’t want to be a doormat and this advice provides a good balance.

    1. Marissa*

      Yes, you can show grace without downplaying the issue, and I think it is important to do so. I can absolutely look back at times when something escaped my mind and inconvenienced someone else. I honestly don’t think I can think of a coworker who hasn’t done the same at some point. It’s human. A single sentence about how you were inconvenienced, a thank you for the apology, and then move on to problem solving to get back on track from the inconvenience I think works well.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes, I think everyone has done something like this. If not at work at least in their personal lives. I know how terrible I felt so it’s nice to show grace to others in the same situation.

    2. Tinuviel*

      I always see that here, about people not wanting to apologize for things that “aren’t really my fault”. I don’t think an apology always means admission of guilt, though maybe there is a cultural difference there. Sometimes it can mean “I’m sorry this inconvenienced you” or “I’m sorry you’re going through this” and can really help repair a relationship.

      There have been many instances where I’ve been in OP’s shoes and understood that it wasn’t my coworker’s fault the meeting had to get canceled, I’m not going to hold a grudge, etc. but I was still inconvenienced and had to expend energy and effort as a result, and acknowledging that would go a long way for me.

      1. Anonomoose*

        There’s a an apology in British English which means something like “I’m sorry you’re an idiot”

  2. Emily*

    I totally feel this – I’m on the West Coast and work with a lot of people on East Coast time. I sincerely don’t mind waking up early for calls, but what happens not infrequently is that an early morning call will get moved before I wake up. So a call set for 9 AM ET will get moved at 8 AM ET, before I’ve woken up. I’ve actually made it a habit that, for early morning calls, I check my phone as soon as I wake up to make sure nothing was changed or cancelled. If it has been – back to bed!

    1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      It goes both ways. I’m in the Midwest, with coworkers on the West Coast who like to schedule meetings for an hour or two after my hours (which are clearly marked on my calendar) end, and coworkers on both coasts who are think 1:00 ET/11:00 PT is the PERFECT time for EVERY meeting, forgetting that people in the Central time zone like to eat lunch too…

      1. Jill of All Trades*

        I work across a zillion time zones and I’ve given up ever having a standard lunch period. I schedule meetings for whenever people have time free and leave it up to people to find their own time for eating.

        Is it polite? Probably not. But it’s what I need to do to actually have these meetings happen when we are scheduling for a call that works for both California and the UK.

        1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

          I get that. It’s just that these meetings are almost always noon in my time zone, and almost never in theirs. I actually had a West Coast coworker recently say words to the effect of “I don’t remember the last time I had a noon meeting”, when I’ve had three this week. In my case, it’s very obvious that the Coasts are trying very hard not to schedule during each other’s noon hours, which mean they always land on mine. If the distribution of noon meetings were more equitable I wouldn’t think anything of it.

          1. A*

            Are there similar number of employees in all three regions? I would be more understanding of this pattern if the majority of the company was on the coasts, with only a few staff members in Central zone.

            1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

              The fewest are on the East, and the rest of the team is pretty evenly split between Central and West/Mountain.

          2. Gumby*

            It’s also possible that the people choosing the meeting times do not automatically see noon as lunch time. I know of one industry in which the expected and standard lunch time is 1 -2 p.m. (My personal lunch time is an outlier at 2:30 – 3 p.m. usually.)

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Same here. When I was with a global company and had colleagues in every region and time zone, I just ate a KIND bar during the call or waited till after. Heck, our team in Singapore dialed into conference calls in the evening or even late night just to accomodate us in the US. Having a roving lunch break didn’t bother me at all.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            I’ve definitely dialed into calls at all hours – anywhere from 6am to 9pm, and I had one scheduled at midnight that another coworker in a more reasonable time zone was able to take my place on. Global business = time zone hell. But unless it’s an external call, we tend to be pretty open to people having food in meetings since we have all had lunch meetings or calls we’ve taken from bed/over the breakfast table.

        3. A*

          Same. That’s generally the expectation across the board at my employer though. There is no set ‘lunch time’, and meetings occur at all times of the work day. With teams across multiple time zones, it’s the only way that’s worked for us. People either eat on their way in-between meetings, or if they want a more formal sit down lunch will set time aside for themselves by blocking off their calendar.

        4. Oh No She Di'int*

          That sort of thing is, I think, increasingly common in our globalized world. Until very recently, I had a coworker in Manila. Depending on the time of year, that is basically 12 hours difference from my location. That means that any time we select is always inconvenient for both of us. It’s either very early in the morning for me and after-hours for him, or vice versa. Such is the global economy.

      2. eastern standard time*

        You’re missing an hour. 1 ET is 10 PT. Seriously though, are you able to suggest spreading the lunch meeting burden more equitably?

    2. banzo_bean*

      Yeah, and when they don’t show up I always wonder if I should go back to bed or if they’re just running 15 minutes late and they’ll log on in just a minute.
      The only saving grace is having these meeting remotely, so I haven’t gotten up and showered, dressed, done my hair, etc before 5:00am.

    3. A Poster Has No Name*

      Oh, that’s evil. Moving a morning meeting up an hour earlier at the last minute is a thing that should be extremely rare not something that that happens “not infrequently.”

      Even without the time zone differences, moving from 9am to 8am ET is going to mess with a lot of people on the East coast.

      1. willow19*

        I think Emily meant that the meeting time was changed AT 8 am, not TO 8 am. So the meeting probably got moved to be later in the day, and here you are, all bright eyed and bushy tailed (not) when you didn’t actually have to be out of bed.

        I have had that happen, or someone just cancels the meeting altogether, and now I’m mad because I got up so early and did not need to. ( I am a night owl, those super early morning meetings are not a hoot.) (See what I did there?

        1. Emily*

          Correct! The meeting will be scheduled for 9, but at 8 someone will send an email like, “Sorry, have a conflict now – moving this to 3 PM.” Which I see after my alarm has already woken me up at 5:30 AM West Coast time. Sorry that wasn’t clear.

          1. Deejay*

            For situations like that, what you want is a smart digital assistant capable of dealing with it.

            “Alexa/Siri, schedule a 5am alarm, but cancel it if a cancellation/postponement of the 6am meeting appears in my calendar.”

            Although that’s not much help if the change is a last-minute one.

      2. Junior Assistant Peon*

        I’ve had plenty of meetings postponed at the last minute, but I’m wondering what kind of idiot makes it an hour earlier at the last minute! I would expect half the participants to not see the email until it’s too late.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I work east coast , starting at 6:30. I keep pushing back when people reschedule meetings to an impossible time. I’m sort of halfway in the middle between California and Europe, so I’m starting to feel like a broken record.
        “Hi M.Europe, you just scheduled a meeting that works for me, but Ms. California will still be asleep. It’s 4am for them. Let’s push that off a couple of hours.”
        “Hi Mr. California, you just scheduled a meeting that goes past my scheduled work time — which means that Mme. Europe will already be at dinner. Can we move that earlier or would tomorrow be better?”
        That said, I already missed one once, when I was put onto a meeting with Australia that I was supposed to call in on after I got home…and hit traffic. He was fantastic and rescheduled the next one for my morning.

        1. Not a cat*

          You are lucky you have that flexibility. I’ve done a weekly 3:30 AM with Finland for the past 3 years. Finland can’t possibly be flexible.

  3. Observer*

    OP, does your coworker realize the time difference? It’s just so weird that the person who got to schedule the meeting at a “normal” hour was the one who over-slept and doesn’t even seen to get the irony.

    YOU got up at 5:00 and she slept through a 10:00 meeting? Not cool. Blowing it off? I can see why you are ticked off. I’d be annoyed even if it hadn’t caused me to have problems with my next meeting.

    1. Colette*

      It sounds like it was an 8 a.m. meeting, not 10?

      The OP is in a different timezone – presumably not the “default” timezone for the people she works with – so she’s used to thinking about it. Her colleagues may not be as in tune with it. But even if they are, they are likely to think about it when scheduling the meeting, not when they’re running late.

      1. Observer*

        it’s a 5 hour difference between the two coasts.

        Even if the OP is closer, it still comes off as totally tone deaf. “Not thinking about it” may be an explanation, but it’s not a good reason at all. When you miss a meeting you SHOULD be thinking about the effect on the person you stood up.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Assuming the U.S., it’s three hours, not five :)

          And we actually don’t know where the coworker is; their time difference could be less than that. Doesn’t change the rest of it though!

          Edited to add: Removed a long off-topic thread here about time zone differences and am closing the subthread so it doesn’t continue!

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            Right. Your advice is time-zone neutral. For all we know, her meeting was with someone in Bangalore and the person forgot to stay late at the office. The advice still holds: OP has to find a way to communicate that she held up her end of the bargain and the other person did not.

      2. Jennifer*

        I think she just forgot about the meeting. It happens. It’s happened to me with people I work in the same building with.

        1. Observer*

          I realize that she “just forgot”. The point is that when you forget a meeting, you need to be apologetic. And when you forget a meeting that was substantially more inconvenient for the other person you need to be a bit more apologetic. And that even more the case when the reason you forgot is the very thing that was more inconvenient for the other person.

          For example, if the OP had had to travel for an hour to get to the meeting and the person works in the building where the meeting it, that’s worse than just forgetting and setting out too late. If the OP had had to travel an hour and miss lunch while the other person missed the meeting because they took a long lunch and didn’t get back to the office that would be even worse.

          1. Jennifer*

            That was meant to be in response to Collette, but in any event, I think that Alison’s script works, either the kinder one or the more direct one, but I think once the message is conveyed, there’s no need to beat a dead horse. These things happen.

            1. Observer*

              I’m not arguing for carrying on about the matter. Of course Allison’s scripts are a good way to go. But it’s legitimate to acknowledge to yourself the real inconvenience of the situation.

              The OP says “it’s sort of” not OK and I’m saying not just “sort of”. It REALLY isn’t OK, when something like this happens and the person on the other other side is cavalier about it. Acknowledging that is useful. I have no fear that the OP is going to take that as an excuse to throw a temper tantrum of carry on about how terrible the coworker is.

        1. Observer*

          Correction taken. The basic point remains the same. If the OP could get up 3 hours early, it’s extra aggravating that the other person just slept through a meeting at a “normal” time.

          The same thing would be true if the OP had to stay 3 hours past closing time, while the other person forgot because they were “too tired”.

          That’s not the core problem, but it is an extra layer, and makes the other person’s cavalier reaction more annoying.

  4. Master Bean Counter*

    I go with:
    Thanks. Can we go over the information you were supposed to supply in the meeting now? or can you get me that info by 2 pm?
    Because, quite frankly, I probably needed something from you in the meeting. if I didn’t I’ll give you a run down of what happened and I will probably call you before the next meeting to make sure you are awake. Depending on our relationship air horns may or may not be involved.

    1. Heidi*

      Agree with this. If there is something Rip Van Winkle can do to make it right, you should totally ask her to do it. If you have to go to a great deal of trouble to make up for the lack of meeting, don’t feel like you need to shield her from it. “I appreciate your apology. I think we’ll have to push back the deadline for X and do some extra work on Y, to stay on track. Let me know when you want to do this.”

    1. JayNay*

      that’s a good one. Similar to what Alison said, I would also suggest something like “Thanks, it happens. Try not to do it again / Please make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

      1. FindThisVeryInteresting*

        “Try not to do it again” can rub a lot of people the wrong way it would seem wildly against most office norms if the scolder was junior to them. Even a peer would likely find this irksome since it feels like performance management. Assuming it’s not a pattern and even then……

      2. Just Elle*

        I actually like leaving it at “thank you” more than saying anything about how to proceed moving forward. Because you can’t say ‘no problem’ when it is, and you don’t really need to add a bunch of words at the end admonishing them. A simple ‘thank you’ gets across that this was a serious offense all on its own.

  5. Just Elle*

    I’ve had good luck changing behavior moving forward by explaining the ‘why’ it wasn’t ok. Alison did a good job of explaining that you don’t want to rub people’s noses in it, but sometimes they honestly don’t realize what a big deal it was.

    “These things can happen, but I was counting on our meeting to prep me for the next one. In the future, I’ll try to do a better job of letting you know when timing of a meeting is critical, if you can do a better job of giving me advanced notice when you’ll miss?”

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed—as long as you keep the tone firm but warm, folks will usually respond well. But if it sounds scolding, exasperated, etc., people tend to get defensive and ignore the (very legitimate and reasonable) core message.

      1. Quill*

        Yes, this is one of the many advantages of doing things by email instead of in person: it can be hard to keep your irritation out of your voice no matter what words you choose.

        1. Jadelyn*

          That’s an interesting take – I see it exactly the other way around: this is something that, even if it’s challenging to get the right tone in your voice, shouldn’t be done via email because tone is even harder to convey in text form. Sure, the text format keeps the irritation out of your voice…but people tend to take blunt statements via email even worse, assuming the worst since they don’t have the benefit of body and facial language to soften things.

    2. Sparrow*

      Yes, I fully agree. I find a lot of time people just…don’t go out of their way to consider the needs of others, or they simply don’t have the context to understand the impact their actions might have. But in my experience, most people aren’t interested in actively being jerks, so if you connect those dots for them, it generally makes a big difference.

    3. Workfromhome*

      I have to say I’m not big on this. I’m Canadian and this almost seems like a too “Canadian” way of saying this . Its like you are saying “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you how critical it is that you not sleep through a meeting that forces me to get up at 5 am. Its partly MY fault you missed the meeting because I didn’t tell you how important it was”.

      No just no. Its not my fault in any way shape of form. You asked for a meeting I had to get up at 5 AM for. You missed it. All your fault. I should not have to do anything different in the future I’ll continue to expect that you wont sleep through meetings “critical or otherwise”. You don’t need to rub their nose in it but you don’t need to coddle them by taking part of the blame when its not your to take.

      1. Just Elle*

        This is a technique popularized by Jocko, Extreme Ownership. If you can swallow your pride and take ownership, people are way more likely to jump in and become a part of the solution than if you just blame them. It becomes “no, no, don’t be silly, it was my bad” instead of “I get it, you don’t have to be such a jerk about it.”
        I mean, sometimes, its harder to apply than others, might have been a stretch in this instance. But as a project manager, I’ve learned that honestly, there is a lot I can do on my end to prevent communication breakdowns, and whenever I assume I have communicated enough I’m proven wrong. So I really do own that portion.

        1. Workfromhome*

          Wow I didn’t even know that was a thing. I know I’ve had to do this type of thing when its with a customer. Taking some of the blame apologizing when its documented to be 100% their fault . It always seemed kind of disingenuous or even passive aggressive to me. “I’m so sorry that you cannot find the report that was due yesterday that I sent you 3 times, received a receipt that you received and read it and that I called you and you confirmed you received it. I’ll try to communicate better in the future (inside head voice Maybe I can come to your office and hold your hand as you deliver the report). Sometimes people need to be called out on stuff otherwise they just continue to put you in the same bad position knowing you’ll take the blame.

    4. hbc*

      Maybe it’s just me, but that response would really get under my skin. Assuming this was a one-off, there’s no reason to assume that I don’t know why we had the meeting and I was cavalier about attending.

      1. Just Elle*

        I think it if was a super obvious gaff, then lecturing them like they’re 5 and don’t understand the stove is hot is not a good move.

        But I really have found that a lot of things that are evident to you are… not… to others. Maybe she genuinely thought it was no big deal for the meeting to be rescheduled. I’ve been caught in the tough choice before between attending a meeting, or no-call-no-showing it to address an emergency at work. The coworker sleeping through it is obviously a much less valid reason to change priorities, but I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of just plain not understanding the criticality of a meeting when you skipped it.

      2. Armchair Expert*

        If your apology consists of “whoops, totally spaced, soz!”, as in the OP, then I think it’s reasonable to assume that you’re cavalier.

        If that person had given a decent apology in the first place I don’t think the question would have even been asked. It’s specifically “how do I communicate that this is not okay to someone who doesn’t seem to get that they inconvenienced me”.

    1. Murphy*

      Ha, you joke but this happens to my husband a lot. Client in California will try to schedule last minute calls on Friday at 6pm EST. Not happening.

      1. rayray*

        Oof. I truly will never understand those people who willingly schedule meetings or big projects for Friday afternoons. I don’t even want to do a 4:00 PM meeting. At my last job where it was flex scheduling, and you could come and go as you pleased, those people who still worked till 7:00 on Fridays just baffled me.

        1. Jennifer*

          I’m one of those people. Not the scheduling meetings at 4 on Fridays person (I hate that too!) but a working until 7 on Fridays person. I don’t like getting up early. Plus I get more done when it’s quiet after most people have left.

          1. Mr. Shark*

            My general opinion–no meetings on Friday afternoon at all! For the most part, people are winding down and are probably not at their sharpest. Second, things come up and people have to leave early or are rushing to get one last thing done on Friday afternoons, so having a meeting at that time isn’t productive.

            1. Devdas Bhagat*

              That is exactly why we have a team meeting on Friday afternoons. The rest of the week is for actual productive work.

  6. Toodie*

    I am not nice. I would suggest rescheduling the meeting for end of day … West Coast time. But, I am not nice.

    1. banzo_bean*

      If most of the team is remote but on the east coast it might be common to observe east coast hours, but yeah if at all possible, I’d start pushing for that.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Why does it have to be first or last thing? I’m so confused why things can’t just be at 8am PST and 11am EST, that’s how we’ve always dealt with things. Mind blown all over the place in that aspect.

  7. Glomarization, Esq.*

    I wouldn’t hesitate to actually mention that it’s an inconvenience or hardship for me to be up at the crack of way-too-early for a meeting that someone else has blown off, even if it was a first-time occurrence. I’d say something along the lines of, “Thanks, I appreciate that. I was up a lot earlier in the morning than I usually do for this, so I hope we don’t have this kind of miscommunication again.”

    1. Miz Behaven*

      Agreed! I feel like so much of the general advice these days is to bend over backwards to be nice and accommodate the offenders and their feelings by tip-toeing around people’s feelings and pretending to not be annoyed even when it’s justified. Yes, be professional, but sometimes the situation calls for firmness too.

    2. Mr. Shark*

      I try to avoid my morning meetings in PST, but I’m also working with people across the globe, so my 6 am meeting may be 10pm for them. It’s hard to tell them to stay up another two hours so that I can have the meeting during my regularly scheduled work day.

  8. CheeryO*

    Maybe this is regional, but that first script reads pretty passive-aggressive to me, and I feel like the kind of person who sleeps through a meeting and then doesn’t offer a sincere apology probably isn’t the type of person who will respond positively to a passive-aggressive IM. I’d probably go with something along the lines of the second script regardless of whether it was a junior or senior coworker.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      In my experience, people just don’t have a clue unless you tell them in clear language that what they’ve done has been an imposition. They don’t get hints, they won’t just figure it out on their own if you “look” a little put out, and they won’t take a passive-aggressive hint. That’s why I’ll say it nicely, but I will definitely tell someone that it was a pain in my -ss for me to get up hours earlier than usual (or stay hours later than usual) and then end up not having the meeting take place.

      I will absolutely assume at first that it was an unfortunate error or oversight, not something intentional or anything at all like that. But it was a problem, and the other person probably needs to be made to understand that.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        There was once a person who wrote in to AAM because he worked from home on the west coast, and his co-workers were all on the east coast. He (? I think) was getting in trouble because his co-workers could hear getting-ready sounds in the background on morning conference calls. A surprising number (i.e. not zero) of east coast commenters took the position that “well, it’s REALLY 9 AM”, and the fact that it was 6 AM for him was just a personal idiosyncrasy or something.

  9. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    This reminds me of the years I had to supervise teenage boys. No matter what you say to them, “Nah it’s fine,” *handwave*

    Me: Fergus, you forgot to punch in and out for the last five of your shifts, please complete this paper timecard or you will not get paid on time.
    Fergus: Nah it’s fine
    Me: Fergus, your llama care certification expired and you haven’t finished the e-learning for the new one, you can’t be in the barn until you’re up to date.
    Fergus: Nah it’s fine
    Me: Fergus, you left the stove on and now all the llamas are on fire!
    Fergus: Nah it’s fine

    They are the reason I have gray hairs, I swear.

    1. Quill*

      Funny how “I’ll get to it!” worked so much better for my brother than me…

      Ah, the joys of being an oldest child, you go away for college and you come back to finding the kid brother building a trebuchet in the back yard and your parents totally down with it.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      Oooh someone who says “nah it’s fine” when they caused the problem makes me so mad. You aren’t the aggrieved party, you don’t get to say it’s fine!

    3. Samwise*

      Hoping that when appropriate it went:
      Me: Fergus, too many screw-ups, you’re fired
      Fergus: Nah, it’s… wait, what?

  10. TootsNYC*

    I think if you say, “I really appreciate your apology, it means a lot that you recognize that it was hard on me,” you’ve covered all the bases.

    If you think the apology is sincere, you craft your tone to be understanding, and you really lean on the “appreciate your apology.”

    If you think they’re blithely tossing off an apology, if YOU treat it like a real apology for a real, sincere offense, that’s a cue that it WAS a real offense.

    1. BethDH*

      I like this! I also like the “I was wondering what had happened” part of AAM’s script for the way it underscores that lack of communication is part of the problem — can’t go back to bed, harder to make contingency backups for next meeting, etc. — while still sounding collegial.

    1. juliebulie*

      Yes. Jane shrugged. I’m not sure if a casual “oh sorry I totally forgot” really even qualifies as an apology, but I think it’s still better than a shrug.

  11. Sharkie*

    If it a pattern, I would say something more firm like ” I understand things happen but it seems to be happening a lot lately and casues X,Y, and Z to happen. Please don’t let it happen again”

  12. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    My way of going about this is really just to rewire myself not to always acknowledge the “sorry” part of things. It’s usually a way to open up the conversation of “I ef’ed this up, can we get it fixed and buried?”

    Someone screws up on their time clock. They slink in here and confess their “sins”. I sincerely am not bothered, it’s a thing that happens, machines are dumb and I hate them, etc. “No problem, really! Thank you for bringing this to me instead of letting me find it myself and having to track you down :)”

    Someone forgets to hit submit on the tax report and it is now a day late, penalties are now being charged. I don’t really acknowledge the “apology” part and jump into “Thank you for bringing this to me, we can fix it and let’s talk about how we can avoid this in the future!” As long as your tone is on point, most people aren’t actually looking for a “Oh that’s okay” or “Apology accepted!” it’s more of a greaser of wheels to say “Dude, I messed up, I’m sorry.” and you say “Cool, thanks for opening the lines of communication here and acknowledging your mistake”.

    In the end I just prefer to steer the ship and clear things up, without getting caught up on the apology aspect, since it’s really just a lubricant in many ways and to show humility of accepting the “crime” is theirs.

    1. Jennifer*

      I love this. Let’s see what we can do to fix it and make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future and move the heck on.

  13. MicroManagered*

    I’ve found that “Thank you for saying that” works really well when I don’t want to respond “it’s ok” to an apology.

    For example, I might respond to Jane’s apology for missing the meeting with “Thank you for saying that. I was up at 5am to match your timezone.” That allows you to introduce the effects of their mistake, without excusing it or beating her over the head with it.

    If they double-down with another apology, I’d say (in a friendly tone that still deliberately omits “it’s ok”) “Thanks. I’m ready to move past it, but I wanted to make you aware.”

    1. Filosofickle*

      A guy I work for seems to have to apologize a lot (insert eyeroll here). I deliberately do not to say “it’s ok” because it’s usually not. (Often, he doesn’t even apologize, it’s more like a “oops my bad” over Slack.) But I’m pretty good with “thanks for that” or “appreciate it” in response. I’m not going to soothe him, but it’s also not worth to me to be aggressive about it.

      On principle I’ve learned to stop apologizing and saying “sorry!” for things that don’t deserve it, and stop waving away things that actually do deserve it.

  14. CM*

    I like “thanks” as a response to an apology rather than “it’s OK.” I generally focus on the impact on me — in this case I might say, “Thanks — I still need your input on this by today, but I have meetings for most of the day. Can you […]” which might be something that is inconvenient for them, but will enable me to move forward. If somebody bails on me and then says they can’t fix it, I feel free to ask them to reschedule other meetings, push back other work, or generally impose on them way more than I normally would, if it’s necessary to get the work done. If it’s not necessary and I’m just annoyed, I try to let it go and only address it if it’s a pattern. I’ll need that understanding at some point too.

    1. Run By Fruiting*

      Me too–when I tell people I do this, it’s like a revelation. If something is ok, I’m fine saying “it’s ok”, but if it’s not, I don’t!

  15. Artemesia*

    Years ago I worked as a grad student in a small research center that was housed in a house on the edge of a campus. I asked the AA if she was going to be in for sure at 8 because I planned to be in for something or ever. When I strolled in at 9, she said ‘I cancelled a dental appointment to be here to let you in.’ That was a good lesson to me and I didn’t forget that a casual arrangement could still make someone else do extra work. I got careful after that about such things. I think it is entirely appropriate to make clear that you were inconvenienced and I like the ‘could we schedule the make up meeting at 9 my time as I had to get up at 5 to make this one.’ It is functional and reminds them that the casual miss on their side had bigger consequences for you than just doing something else at work.

  16. StephThePM*

    As a PM, I get this a lot – I’m often bringing subject matter experts together,facilitating scheduling and the meeting and outcomes itself, and left holding the bag when someone doesn’t show up as I’m not…like, the expert llama wrangler. I handle it, pending the group, in different manners. Here are some of my strategies, in the event they help you.

    I try to head this overall scenario off by first firmly understanding the driver for the meeting (or whatever, document, etc.) in the first place, as well as the schedule and any dependencies. I then over-communicate to the participants/my colleagues re: the timelines and rationale for the mtg or review or whatever. Like, Sue would have been crystal clear as to why we were meeting when we were meeting. To give you an additional strategy, in your scenario, I would have done everything possible to avoid stacking 2 dependent meetings in the same day as I’ve seen this go awry too often. For example, if I have to present a document on Wednesday, I have my final walkthrough on Tuesday by mid-day so I have 1/2 day for reacting to issues or changes or schedule problems. If I get burned at mid-day Tuesday, my first choice is to make it uncomfortable for the person burning me – “Bob, I need to present this information on Wednesday, so I need your input by X or someone who is authorized to provide the information today. Who do you suggest? Can you meet at 5 PM?” Second choice is to push meeting #2, explaining that critical input hadn’t been provided by Bob and we’d need to his input to be productive in the meeting.

    Another strategy – if Sue’s input is critical to a mtg at 3 PM and she’s supposed to give me information at 9 AM…Sue is invited to the 3 PM meeting. You can then handle it like, “Sue and I had a conflict at 9, so we’re having a bit of a working session here /we’re getting her input on tea pot handles.” This absolutely takes you out of the mix – and removes some of the concern I’m seeing about YOU looking unprepared. You’re prepared, but Sue wasn’t, so here everyone is and we’re just getting it done.

    If it’s a really senior person that’s burning me, I will go directly to them by phone or email, and say, “I need this information by 12 pm in order to move XYZ forward. If I get it after then, I’ll have to ABC. When can you meet?” I actually find really senior people the easiest to deal with – because the message isn’t they screwed you over – it’s what is the impact of them not delivering and what you need to drive it forward. 99% of the time, I get an apology, the info that I need, or a reasonable path forward (“let me call Sue and let her know that I messed up” or “talk to Bob, who I’ve copied here”).

    I honestly think you can take the same approach with a peer or junior person. I mean, with anyone, you can easily say “It’s so hard to not hit that snooze button! I need to provide this information to Ellen by 3 PM ET. Can you meet at 10 AM to address this? I’m already going to be really pressed/have to stay late/etc. to move those slides around. If we can’t meet, Ellen’s going to have to XYZ.” This gets the message across to a reasonable person, states the facts, and gets you moving forward and no one can say OP is a jerk. It’s professional and factual – and conveys the outcome of not meeting.

    Another strategy that I take when dealing with a critical meeting is that I will call critical people. I have phone numbers for most people that I’m meeting with – and always have a phone number for getting a hold of people when we are meeting at weird hours. “Hey, it’s 5 AM my time. If there’s an issue with this meeting, how can I reach you?” I start calling at 5 mins. So, Sue would have gotten a call from me at 5:05 AM PT. If it was during the day, it would have been an IM or a call.

    If you’re on a call with a bunch of people and you can’t reach Sue or Bob who need to give input, I try to press the agenda forward with areas that don’t require their input. If that’s not an option, and I solicit the group for any ways we can make progress without them (usually, none), I simply pull the plug on the meeting at the 10 minute mark. I announce we’re unable to make progress b/c Bob and Sue weren’t there, and that I’ll be reconvening with them and their boss to set an alternate schedule.

    Final, more nuclear option, with a repeat offender. “Hi Bob, Jen (person’s boss), I really need Bob’s input on these 7 things, and he’s having some conflicts with our meetings on teapots – it sounds like he’s absolutely swamped! If I don’t get X done by Tuesday, this is the implication. Can Martha fill in for Bob?” I had to do this exactly once, with a peer of mine, and it doesn’t happen anymore. Bob is usually first on the phone or texting me that he’s 4 mins late :)

    I know that this probably sounds like it’s putting it on you – and maybe it is, as that’s how I handle this type of thing. My mission is getting the information/reach the goal/etc. – and I’ll be damned if people not showing up prevents me from doing that or looking like I’m unprepared or disorganized. So, after getting materials to present 15 minutes in advance, after not having the right lady on the phone to move a discussion forward, after taking too much on myself, after working weekends to make up time for people, etc…I take no prisoners anymore and avoid putting myself in the position where I get hosed by someone not showing up to a mtg.

    FWIW, I slept through a mtg once. I was on the west coast and someone scheduled a 8 AM ET mtg. I was super apologetic, asked what I needed to do to help the person achieve their goals, etc., and then went out of my way to help out. You’re writing in b/c you’re not getting that. If it’s happening a lot, people feel that they can do that to you. People, largely, are not jerks. My experience would lead me to suggest to you that they may not understand the criticality/next steps of meeting with you, and that you look at tackling THAT as a proactive tactic to take going forward.

    1. StephThePM*

      wow, I wrote a lot of stuff. But, it really boils down to heading off the situation and then conveying the implication and next steps of them missing a mtg. :)

    2. not PM*

      Expert llama wrangler, lol.

      I was helping my project manager out on some tasks / getting some other functions to an agreement a few months ago, and I told him afterwards that PM seems a lot like herding cats. Some just ignore you, some just do whatever they were going to do anyways.

  17. LQ*

    I will sometimes just ignore the “sorry” and focus on what needs to be done. Especially if the person is really leaning on me to do the emotional management for them and it is very serious.
    “OMG I’m SOOOO SORRRRY!!!!! PLEASE forgive me! I prostrate myself.”
    “I need to reschedule this immediately, when are you available?”
    “I’m sorrrrrrrry!”
    “Are you free at 2? I can reorganize so that we can get this meeting done so we can move forward with this project.”

    I’m not interested in doing someone emotional heavy lifting especially when they really messed up. (I’ve had this a few times with some really serious things lately.) Lets get it fixed and then you can go and get someone else to soothe you because that’s really not what I have time for.

    1. mcr-red*

      Yeah, that’s what I do when it’s really not OK. And for the most part, I am very understanding that things happen. I have been the “it’s OK” person for far too long in all facets of life and tend to get walked on. When something has been really messed up and it’s really NOT OK, I do the same thing – just continue on with the things we need to do now. It’s silently telling them “It’s NOT OK.”

  18. Anna*

    One thing a previous boss used to do is say, “It happens.” And then if it happens again more can be said of course, but that just a suggestion to replace, “It’s okay.”

  19. Clementine*

    I’d take it for granted that I may need someone’s forbearance in the future. That might or might not affect how one responds to the situation at hand, but it’s something I remember before I get too overwrought about it.

  20. MommyMD*

    In an otherwise dependable coworker, I let it slide. But if it becomes a pattern affecting me, I say something. For an important meeting thing I may have said “I understand. But I was ready at 5 am my time and it will impact my other meetings”. That’s fair. If they were sick or had another problem that’s understandable. But not just sleeping through it. If it impacts your work it’s ok to say something. The same goes for me. If I muck it up I want to know.

  21. Res Admin*

    My boss (which, I understand, is a different relationship), just up and says “That is NOT ok. I am not ok with that. And here is why…” Then she discusses how to fix it and never mentions it again. I have always appreciated that about her. On the other hand, a lot of other people are afraid of her so… failing that, I would go with the “I REALLY appreciate the apology and that you recognize what a huge inconvenience this was for me” approach mentioned above.

  22. Delta Delta*

    I once was in a situation where a coworker did something bad that very much required an apology. Coworker apologized to me, expecting I’d say, “that’s okay.” Instead, what I said was, “I accept your apology,” and I walked away. This communicated to the other person that the situation was over and that I accepted the apology, but that I expected the thing shouldn’t happen again. The thing was absolutely not okay and I wasn’t going to give her the space to believe that it was and she understood that from the transaction.

    And this happened when I was very young in my work career. I’m surprised I thought of this on my own and on the fly like I did.

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