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Are You Really Sorry?

September 23, 2013


Do you apologize too much? There are two situations that call for saying “I’m sorry”:

  1. When you have done something that you truly regret and would rather you had done differently;
  2. When you truly sympathize with another’s distress

The problem with tossing theses words around like candy is that they are disempowering, and often less than fully sincere. Also, they often don’t make the person hearing them feel any better. To confirm this, think of all the times when someone has said “I’m sorry” to you when you really didn’t care to hear it, either because nothing was wrong, or because you didn’t think they had anything to be sorry for. (Note: this doesn’t include situations where someone wanted to offer a genuine apology and you weren’t ready to hear it because you were nursing resentment.)

Contrast this with the words “thank you”, which also get said frequently, but which aren’t self deprecating and almost always make the person hearing them feel good. It never hurts to say “thank you”.

People often say “I’m sorry” in situations where no harm has been done, or where they are trying to get themselves off the hook. For example, the following type of exchange is common:

“Hi Amy, it’s nice to see you again.”

“I’m Amber.”

“Oh, sorry!”

What harm has been done? What’s there to regret? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say “thank you” here? I think it would. No harm no foul.  Or what about a situation where someone asks you for something and the answer is no?  Do you say “sorry”?  Why?  If you don’t know the answer to someone’s question, or don’t have what they are asking for, that is nothing to apologize for.  You might say you do it to be polite, but does it really serve that purpose?

On the other hand, if someone lets you know that something you say or do inadvertently offends them, in spite of your good intentions, it is perfectly appropriate to say you’re sorry since, presumably, you don’t like to offend people. (Note: “I didn’t mean to” can accompany “I’m sorry”, but not replace it; said by itself, it actually means the opposite.)

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