I got stood up this morning. Not by a man, which has happened before in a dating way, but by the female CEO of a company that I had worked with for months. The goal of the meeting was to discuss how I might help her with additional writing and communications work. She had rescheduled once before because of an out-of-town funeral. When I saw her at their office Christmas party she told me to set up another appointment and I did.

The time got shifted back a bit but I was there at the appointed hour after driving through a Florida monsoon and running through it sans umbrella to get into the building. Her office is at the front and it was dark and her door was closed. The person who answered the door called the CEO on her cell who blamed her assistant and said she had asked her to cancel it. She didn’t ask to speak with me and apologize and I have not heard from her since. Humiliated is a kind word for how I felt at that moment.

It got me thinking. I have written before about a growing trend in business rudeness and how people treat others as though they never considered that the other person put time into that proposal or rearranged their schedule to meet.  Friends in real estate have told me about potential buyers who had appointments to see houses and never came or called. Colleagues who sell services have regaled me with instances of in-person meetings that were never cancelled and left them feeling like fools. How has it become common practice to just ditch people in business?

I don’t matter to them

My much younger self got stood up twice in business – for a job interview and a new business development meeting. The first time I had put on my perfectly fitting blue business suit and heels and climbed a mountain in San Francisco to meet with the bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal.  His assistant said, “I tried to reach you and left a message.” She had not.

The second time I drove 2.5 hours to I don’t remember where in Pennsylvania to meet with a woman who ran a marketing company that I talked with as a news source often. Her assistant said she’d gone to New York City for a business appointment. These were two isolated incidents over a long career.

Now it happens all the time.

Countless management gurus preach empathy to leaders as the key to running a successful organization. Empathy in business, as I see it, is recognizing that other people have concerns and feelings and they are entitled to be heard, even if what they suggest is not acted upon. It is putting yourself in the shoes of another person who gave time and effort out of a busy life to schedule an appointment that you decided was to insignificant to cancel.  Empathy is recognizing that another person’s life and experiences are just as valuable as yours.

This you are not important go to hell approach runs counter to everything we read about meaningful work and mindfulness. I suppose both are introspective rather than the way others behave, but still with so much self awareness out there you would think considerate behavior would at least be part of it.

When children are raised with chronic loss, without the psychological or physical protection they need and deserve, it is most natural for them to internalize situations like getting stood up. Abandonment can be triggered by losing a parent, divorce, growing up in a home where you are not supported, being left alone for long periods of time, many situations that occur in life. Living with abandonment experiences causes a toxic shame that arises from the message “You are not important. You are not of value.” Getting stood up triggers those feelings almost immediately. So, it’s not just inconvenience we are talking about in many cases, it’s pain. And to me at least, an empathetic leader does not want to cause pain in others.

Standing in that office dripping wet from the Florida monsoon in front of  the young woman who could not look me in the eye, trying to hold back tears, I realized that no matter who it is, what the situation, how you feel about it, how important you think you are, a real leader would not behave that way. And the truth is no one wants to work for or with someone who does.

I’m old enough and smart enough to know that Thriving in business means turn the other cheek and never look back. So I wrote this article instead.


  • Aimee Stern

    Aimee Stern

    Aimee Stern is Chief Bravery Officer of Brave Now PR, a firm that works with senior executives to defy conventional wisdom and change the game in their industries. She is a marketer at heart, an expertise developed as a former journalist who covered marketing, advertising and communications for the New York Times, Money, Fortune's Small Business, the Harvard Business School and Business Week, among others. She is passionate about the work, and helps her clients become the leaders they always wanted to be.