Recently somebody got mad at me for something they shouldn’t have. That’s not just my opinion, either; they even agreed with me that they were mad about something else and took their anger out on me.
However, they didn’t apologize for getting mad at me when they shouldn’t have. And it’s bugging me. It’s still bugging me, more than a week later. Should it bother me? Does an apology really matter once the problem is over? After all, life goes on, right – so why shouldn’t I move on too?
Apologies often seem like part of a formula, much like saying hello when you first see somebody or saying “Excuse me” when you’re trying to past somebody. Is that all they are? We can start conversations without saying “Hello”, we can push past people without saying “Excuse me,” and we can make a mistake without saying “I’m sorry.” In that view, these words are just pleasantries, things we can say if we want to but that don’t really mean anything.
For me, though (and I’m willing to bet for a lot of others), all of these formulaic pleasantries actually do have meaning. Refusing to say “Excuse me” suggests to the person that you’ve bumped into that you didn’t see anything wrong with bumping into them, perhaps that you think they were in your way. Refusing to say “Hello” and just getting right to the point of your conversation suggests that the interaction you’ve just entered into is purely transactional and not part of a larger relationship. My wife and her family used to wonder why I insisted so much on having my kids say “Please” and “Thank You” for everything, which is not something they consider as important as I do. But for me, those words let others know that you’re not expecting to get everything just because you asked for it, and that you appreciate the effort others have expended to give you whatever you wanted. For me it’s not about good manners; it’s about creating respectful social bonds with others.
Which brings me to why I have so much trouble whenever someone refuses to say “I’m sorry.” Because when we don’t apologize for the things we shouldn’t have done, we’re essentially saying that we don’t think we did anything wrong. We’re not apologizing because we don’t see any need to apologize. A problem occurred as the result of some action or behavior that didn’t work for the people we were interacting with – and we’re probably going to engage in those same actions and behaviors in the future, because there’s nothing for us to be sorry about.
That’s why so many of us get so upset when individuals or companies fail to apologize for the mistakes they’ve made – or apologize in a way that comes off as insincere. It’s not about winning the argument or being right. We ask for and expect apologies because we’re hoping that some amount of learning has taken place, that things we don’t want to repeat won’t be repeated. We get into arguments with others because we’re not happy with the way things are and want something to change – and offering an apology lets everyone know that some of the changes we’re asking for might actually someday happen.
So I’ll continue to say “Please” and “Thank you” and “Excuse me” and “Hello,” because I think they’re more than just nice sounds. And I’ll keep asking for apologies when I think they’re due me, and apologizing to others when they don’t like what I say or do.
And if you’ve read this and don’t like any of it, I’d like to say that I’m sorry for wasting your time. I certainly wasn’t trying to, and you can be assured that I don’t like spending my time writing articles that nobody wants to read. I’ll try to do better next time.
OMG!!! I feel EXACTLY the same way. I always use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ and many times have to remind my husband to do the same. And oftentimes, I find myself up sending work emails from home in my pajamas, because I’ve been up since 4:30 and before hitting send, go back and enter Good Morning or Hello. Just because I’m in work mode doesn’t mean everyone else is. And the biggest fights my husband and I have are because he REFUSES!!! to say, “I’m sorry.” I don’t get it, and it is SOOOO necessary. And yes, you have every right to feel angry because of the person who took their anger out on you did not apologize after it. You deserve an apology!
I taught my children that saying they are sorry does not mean it will not happen again, it means they are going to TRY and not let it happen again. We all fail and in most circumstances, we really want to do better and an apology is a good first step.
I agree with you, Jeff, 100%! I respect someone who is willing to apologize when they’ve made a mistake. We all make mistakes. To me, please and thank you, excuse me, hello, I’m sorry, are all part of being kind. And if we could all try to be kinder, can you imagine how wonderful that would be?
Good article Jeff – Couldn’t agree more. I did wonder what your thoughts may be regarding those who do not say “sorry” or “excuse me” due to embarrassment or past experiences? Those who feel the need to say something but cant work up the courage based on their personality traits and or past experiences were the person on the receiving end of the apology acts confrontational?
HELLO – PLEASE accept my THANK YOU , and EXCUSE ME for expecting you to say SORRY.
Sincere apologies are always appreciated. Too often, apologies aren’t sincere. Some people say, “I’m sorry” almost as a reflex with no meaning behind what they said.