For a great many of us, “sorry” seems to be a tough word to say. The British comedian David Mitchell recently encouraged people to apologize more, as according to research conducted at Harvard, it apparently makes us more trustworthy. So why are we, as a species, so adverse to admitting errors and atoning for them?
This predicament seems to begin in early life, as children are often unwilling to apologize. As a very young boy, when my mother tried to make me apologize for misbehaving, I would pretend I was unable to say the word. A child is generally forgiven quickly, however, this behavior is still prevalent in a large number of adults in varying situations and professions.
Politicians seem to be largely incapable of offering apologies. Policies sometimes do not work and ideas that they announce prove to be deeply unpopular. Rather than admitting fault, we watch them squirm during interviews as they supply calculated answers rather than something to the effect of, “We got it wrong, sorry for that, now we’re going to try something else.”
Instead, we have to endure paper-thin justifications and new reasoning for ditching the policy. When politicians do apologize, it’s usually a popular move. Barack Obama personally took responsibility and apologized for the failure of the healthcare.gov website and subsequent impact on individuals' health insurance — many appreciated the admission.
This epidemic is common in the workplace also. How many of us have made a mistake at work and attempted to cover it up? Even worse, how many of us have tried to shift the blame to a colleague? Do we not gain the respect of colleagues in admitting when an error has taken place? And is it generally not more efficient to make efforts to rectify a mistake sooner? All of this positive behavior starts with a simple mea culpa.
How often do you put down the phone and feel frustrated? Have you complained to a company only to receive a template letter or email explaining why the bad service you received can be ignored based on the fine-print content in the terms and conditions? Often, all you were after was an apology and the hope that it won’t happen again, but the belligerent reply left you feeling more frustrated than you were at the outset.
Apologizing in relationships seems to be so difficult for many, yet it is probably an area that should concern us most. Admitting culpability for being thoughtless or upsetting someone accidentally (or deliberately) is hard to do but ultimately, you will be thanked and research shows that you will end up feeling less stressed.
There are a few key ideas that need to be remembered when offering an apology:
It needs to be sincere. Apologizing just to get yourself off the hook or because it was asked of you is worse than not doing it at all. Think about your apology before blindly offering it. An insincere apology is easily recognizable and not quickly forgotten. Being sorry is the most important part of saying sorry.
Do not expect the other person to offer a counter apology. Just because you said sorry it does not mean that the other person needs to follow your lead. Expecting this is almost as egregious as an insincere apology.
Be aware of when you should offer a counter apology. If there is any doubt — always admit your own wrongdoing.
There is a pretty good chance that you are not as perfect as you think you are. Take a deep breath and remember the old saying, “It takes a brave person to admit his or her mistakes.”
Photo credit: Shutterstock