Actually, I apologize a lot. Chances are, if you’ve an email from me it began with something like, “I apologize it’s taken me so long to get back to you…” That’s because I’m a horrible friend and am terrible at getting back to people. (Maybe now is a good time to apologize to you if you are waiting to hear back from me as I write this.) To make matters worse, my wife Lisa told me recently that I’m not the nice guy I walk around thinking I am. Nope. I’m an expletive that rhymes with “gas bowl” and looks like the tail end of a burro. Don’t get the wrong idea–I asked for it. We were driving on a road trip (I don’t know about you, but our best conversations happen when we sit in the car next to each other for hours on end) and I was asking my dear wife for feedback about myself. Somewhere along the line I helpfully offered what a nice guy I am and how I let myself get pushed around. Her response? “I don’t know that I’d say you’re a ‘nice guy.’ You can be nice. You’re a good dad and I love you, but you’re kind of an…” well, you get the idea.
My self-absorbed burro like personality means I have plenty of opportunity to practice apologizing to people for a variety of reasons. It also means I listen to the apologies of others. I’m a bit of an apology connoisseur as it were. Here’s what I’ve noticed. When I say “I’m sorry” for something I’ve done, I almost never am. In fact, in our house “I’m sorry” almost means, “I’m sorry you brought up my ‘supposed offense’ now leave me alone!” (I actually did this to Lisa the other day when she called me on the carpet for a rude comment) And, I don’t think we’re the only ones who “apologize” in this way. I’ve heard it in the so-called apologies of friends, acquaintances and strangers. I’ve heard it among family members and co-workers. “I’m sorry” are two words we use as a society to quickly get people off our backs and to avoid the pain of responsibility and reconciliation.
What to do? I have found a profound difference between saying “I’m sorry” and speaking the words “I apologize.” (PLEASE tell me you never utter phrases like “I’m sorry you feel that way.” worst. apology. EVER.) Uttering the five-syllable, two-word phrase “I apologize” cuts through any attempt save face and helps us admit we are just plain wrong. For advanced users, I recommend adding what you apologize for–and be specific. It’s surprising how simple and difficult the switch can be in real life. It’s also surprising what a difference it makes to our relationships. Take it from one who has had plenty of opportunity to practice, next time conflict arises, see what happens by simply saying, “I apologize.”
How did it go last time you had to say “I apologize”?