Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Accountability

Salvaging Lost Opportunities

Dear Crucial Skills,

A couple of months ago I applied for another position within my company. The new job would have been a huge increase in responsibility. It is a very visible, high-pressure position, and would invariably mean a lot of overtime. The hiring manager informed me that because of the amount of responsibility in the position, it was considered a grade three levels above where I am now. He also said I was their first choice.

I received an offer that did not include any kind of grade increase and only a 5 percent salary increase. I was very upset. I tried for almost two weeks to call the manager, to no avail. I finally gave up and sent him an e-mail that to me said “uh…no, try again.” I then received an e-mail from the HR representative, who informed me that I had declined the offer.

Well, here is where I have to admit I messed up big time. Still not being able to speak with the hiring manager, I called the HR manager and gave him “what for” about expecting people to take a job for free. I knew I should cool off before I called, but I didn’t listen to my instincts. I was and am still very interested in this position; it’s perfect for my experience and career goals.

Is there any way I can salvage this situation and still get the position, or do I just have to write it off to a learning experience?


Dear Insulted,

You’re in an interesting predicament. You’re asking if you can salvage the opportunity. And the advice I’m going to give you is that the best way to salvage it is to not try to salvage it.

As you’ve surmised, they’re probably telling themselves a story about you based on how you responded to recent events. They may see you now as difficult to work with or even hostile. This could very well have caused them to conclude you would be unfit for the position. They may be disinclined to even negotiate with you about the position because it seems like it might be unpleasant. There’s even a possibility that the hiring manager will find it easier to start with a new candidate rather than you because he realizes he built incorrect expectations with you about grade and pay. It’s a deep hole.

But no matter the depth of the hole, I’d encourage you to think about what you really want here. What’s truly important to you? Is it more important to get the position? Or is it more important to repair the relationships that your response may have damaged?

Here’s why it’s so important to ask this question. If what’s most important to you is to get the position, the path forward will be to approach the boss and HR manager and apologize thoroughly for the way you’ve handled it. Your goal must be to convince them that this is uncharacteristic of you and should be attributed to temporary insanity of some sort.

And yet if you take that tack you’ll fail in the most important sense. You’ll fail as a human being because your motive for apologizing will be insincere. Even if you’re an incredible actor, you’ll be a fake. And your behavior in the future will demonstrate to them in some stressful circumstance that you didn’t deserve their forgiveness. More immediately, you’ll walk away knowing you’re a fake. You’ll have expressed remorse for your behavior when what you’re really feeling is remorse for the loss of the position.

On the other hand, if what’s truly important to you is to repair the relationship, then you will also apologize. But you’ll apologize not first and foremost with the intent to salvage the opportunity. You’ll apologize because you should. They deserve it. You deserve it. It can help them soften the story they may be telling about you right now and see you as someone who can change and is more complex than the brief view they’ve had of you in recent days. This is why you should take steps to mend the fence—because it’s the right thing to do.

The irony is this. If you apologize sincerely, it’s also more likely to get you the job. If you let go of getting the job as a motive for apologizing, your apology is more likely to reopen that door.

Is the probability high? Not likely. I wish I could tell you otherwise. But if they are making a quick decision and have a candidate without asterisks and worry signs associated, they’re likely to take the surer route. But I can assure you that apologizing sincerely and with no ulterior motive will open other doors—even if not this one.

Having said that, don’t do it because it works. Do it because it’s right.

Start by assuring them that you realize you’ve undermined their confidence in you through your recent actions. Apologize for any discomfort or upset it may have caused them. Let them know that how you behaved does not reflect your values.

And here’s the tricky part. Once you are certain the hiring manager is convinced of your sincerity, you need to hold the crucial conversation you held poorly in the first place. You believe he made some agreements with you that he didn’t keep in relation to pay grade and salary. Find a safe and respectful way to let him know that this is what you were struggling with, then listen carefully to the meaning he wants to add to the pool.

Best wishes,

Develop Your Crucial Skills

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