I’m Sorry…. REALLY?
Apologies are often used to manipulate others. Lately I have been watching out for this phenomenon, and sure enough: most sentences that start with “I’m sorry..” are about something else. And more than a few times, I have caught myself yielding to the temptation to fling some half-hearted apology for one reason or another. There are three main kinds of apologies.
Excuses masquerading as an apology
Passive-aggressive attacks hidden in plain sight
Actual sincere apologies
Below are examples of lame apologies. These never actually made it out of my mouth or my e-mail box, but were caught in my mental spam filter. Thank GOD! The ones that did make it out, I am not sharing!!!
Lame excuse type one:
I am sorry I got this information to you so late. I have so much to do. I have a kid who is going back to school, the band is on tour, I am working on my book proposal, we have a new album coming out, I am moving and remodeling my office so my teen can have a nicer room, and I really don’t have time to do this, but STILL: I sat up late last night and worked on this to get it to you anyway.
LAME!!! The real message is: “I have such a busy schedule. Do remember to feed my ego when you reply. AND I hope you feel guilty for making me (who chose to be so busy with other things) do what I should have delivered to you a week ago.“
I’m sorry but I just ____
In fact, any statement that starts with “I’m sorry” and is followed by “…but” is a red flag. Watch for the excuse that is a hidden way of asking for sympathy rather than truly apologizing.
Lame excuse type two:
I am SO sorry! You know, I wanted to get this information to you, but I thought you didn’t want it. I mean, you told me a week ago that I sent too many e-mails.
DOUBLE-LAME!!! This really is a hit over the head for the person, who had hurt my feelings previously by complaining. So this time, I withhold information that the person needs to “show them” that I felt their request was out of line and counterproductive. This is passive-aggressive BS at its finest.
This kind of excuse has a devious twin that sounds something like this:
I am so sorry you feel that way. I really didn’t think it mattered that much to you.
Yeah, well the real message with this kind of apology is: “Your feelings are unimportant and ‘wrong.'”
The third kind of apology is from the heart. It is a sincere declaration of concern for the other person. It is about owning what I did that had the unintended consequences. It is about seeking to learn from it and not do it again. It actually is most efficient if it doesn’t even contain the word “sorry.” It is a word that is so easy to abuse.
When I found out I hurt you, it made me aware that I do this sort of thing quite often. It has made me reflect on it, and it is a bad habit of mine. If you see me do it again, please let me know. I want to learn from this, so I invite you to call me on it.
This kind of apology creates a sense of win-win. It takes courage to honestly embrace our vulnerability like this. It invites the other person to step into a process of learning together.
Now – a few days ago sitting in the car, I yelled at my 19 year-old son:
“Jeez kid, slow down. You drive just like I do.”
I didn’t apologize for that one, but I did have to tell him that it made me realize that my driving was at times a bit too fast. Looking in the mirror is always a hard thing to do. And the truth is it is difficult to accept in ourselves what we project onto others. And at the same time, it is the best way to go. Calling ourselves on our BS is never-ending. But the good news is that our own BS is the only BS we can efficiently control!