Sometimes, it’s best to simply say – and mean – that you’re sorry

09/08/2013 12:00 AM

09/07/2013 4:52 PM

Let’s get one thing straight, there was no eavesdropping going on. When you’re on one side of a huge dress rack in a department store and people on the other side aren’t getting along, well, you can’t help but hear the conversation.

It went like this: “All right, I’m sorry. There, can we forget it now?” the male voice said. “Oh, sure, like you really mean it. You’re not sorry, you’re never sorry,” replied the female. I had to agree that he didn’t sound sincere and all he was sorry for was marrying someone who was sensitive.

This little scene got me thinking how very few people know how to apologize. I’m afraid I’m one of those people, but I’ve improved because my husband has made very clear the flaws in what I used to think was a good enough apology.

It’s one thing to say “I’m sorry,” but it’s another to choke out those three little words: “I was wrong.” And you don’t even have to be totally wrong to say them, but if you are the least bit to blame it’s important to take personal responsibility for the problem.

While this might seem like the wimpy position, it’s actually not according to business strategist and author Lisa Earle McLeod. “Stepping up to fix your part makes you more powerful, not less,” she wrote. She explains being able to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong” pulls you out of victim mode and into action mode. When you don’t say it, you are powerless because you can’t change anything, and you can end up trapped in the conflict for a long time, or forever. She also points out with those three little words you get control of the conversation.

We all know people who wouldn’t apologize and admit they were wrong if their lives depended on it. And we’ve all been around people who say “I’m sorry” so many times it’s almost like a habit they seem to have developed.

This brings up the matter of whom we believe when we get an apology. If it’s someone close, we know their personality and know whether it’s a heart-felt, sincere apology, or words said to avoid a scene in public, tears, the silent treatment, a punch in the nose, etc.

The woman I overheard in the store had heard the sing-song “I’m sorry” from her significant other one too many times. He sounded like my youngest granddaughter when she is instructed to apologize to one of her sisters: “Saaarreee.”

The last time I made a major apology I decided to stand up straight, no groveling, good attitude. I looked the person in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, I was wrong. I was out of line.” Of course, by the time I got to the word “line” I choked up, but the apology was accepted, and the whole thing was over.

A lot of people will probably disagree with me on this, but the older I get the more I realize you have to choose your battles. Some things simply aren’t worth the time, energy and hurt feelings it would take to end up in a conflict.

If my friend’s husband thinks he’s right about something, he boasts that “I will gladly argue until the sun comes up and I will never apologize.”

My friend said, “I just go to bed and let him argue by himself. He knows if he ever wants another home cooked meal he WILL apologize in the morning.”

Well, I guess that’s another approach.

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