Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word"

An article by Lisa Belkin in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, took a good look at the act of saying sorry and whether we really mean it or are just mouthing the words to appease others. In the article, Dr. Aaron Lazare, author of the book "On Apology" proclaimed that apologies are one of "the most profound of human interactions" and, that when made sincerely, can mend most offenses. As we get older, it seems that the act of saying sorry becomes increasingly difficult. Why does this happen? Why does the apology sometimes come across as so painful for the person saying it, that it appears as if they'd rather cut off their right arm then actually say the words?

In my etiquette classes for children, we always cover the 5 main "Magic Words". The first ones that come to mind are always please, thank you and you're welcome. Then inevitably one of the children mentions the words, excuse me, followed by "I'm sorry." They learn these words from a very young age and are taught to use them as a way to show respect, consideration and kindness towards others.

Since apologies are a hot topic these days, with everyone from celebrities and athletes, to corporate heads and politicians making them, we thought we'd take a moment to break down some of the proper uses as well as a few misconceptions.

1. Say it like you mean it. At one time or another, most of us have been on the receiving end of one of those "nonapology apologies". These are also affectionately known as half-assed apologies or hidden apologies. You know the kind of apology that makes you feel like you are pulling teeth to get the person to say it and can actually make you feel worse than if they had offered no apology at all! Any way you slice it, it just doesn't feel right. The point is, if you are going to take the time to say you're sorry, say it like you mean it and offer an admission of true regret. This is the key to an effective and sincere apology.

2. Take the high road. Oftentimes it's easier to apologize and say you're sorry even if you didn't do anything wrong. This is the best way to spare another person's feelings and works well with those who are highly sensitive. In most cases, you are never going to see eye to eye so it is simpler to be the bigger person and say you're sorry to enable you both to move on.

3. Give the benefit of the doubt. Accidents will and do happen. Before you launch into a battle with someone, give them the benefit of the doubt. Rather than immediately assuming the action was intentional, take a breath and see if it was merely an accident. In most cases, it is an accident and therefore a simple, "I'm sorry" is all that is necessary.

4. Don't be in such a hurry! How many times a day are we bumping into people physically because we are rushing somewhere, whether it be to get to the supermarket or pick up the kids from school? Taking a quick moment to say "sorry" to someone you may have side-swiped along the way will certainly alleviate the tension and prevent those around you from thinking you are beyond rude.

5. Please don't patronize. There is nothing worse than the person who says they're sorry in a way that makes you feel inferior. This is the type of sorry that sounds patronizing and positioning and seems almost as if the person saying it wants you to feel bad. Newsflash: No one wants to be talked down to, so please save your patronizing tone and refrain from these types of sorry's altogether.

6. Take full responsibility. Saying sorry means nothing if the person saying it doesn't include a complete explanation for their actions and a plan going forward to avoid future mistakes. If you are going to say sorry to someone, make it meaningful and claim 100% responsibility for your behavior. Take a moment to put yourself in their shoes to see things from their perspective. This will help validate their feelings while also conveying your sincerety which will ultimately lead you to a successful outcome.

7. It takes two to make an apology go right. The person who says they're sorry and asks for forgiveness must have the full cooperation of the person who accepts the apology. This requires practice and precision. Typically, you only have one chance to apologize, so practice saying sorry and rehearse the scenario in your head before making the apology in person. Precision is necessary to choose just the right words that will give the person ample opportunity to forgive you.

8. Say it. Don't text, email or write it. Saying sorry has to be done in person. Both parties should be able to read each other's emotions, body language and gestures to determine if the apology is sincere and to truly be able to mend the situation. Writing a letter is second best. It is easier for most people to put their true feelings into words, but a follow up in-person conversation is still necessary. Don't even bother sending a text or email apology. It is way too impersonal and won't cut it with most people.

Sorry for any inconvenience reading this blog may have caused you. We hope you'll find a moment to share with us your thoughts on saying sorry and making apologies. To learn more information on perfecting apologies in general, check out

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