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‘Oops. I’m Sorry.’ But Are You Always Really, Really Sorry?

July 24, 2015 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

We all make mistakes, and by this age most of us could stretch our “sorrys” for “oops I didn’t mean that” clear across the country and back, maybe several times.

However, we’re not talking only about the many ways we use the simple words “I’m sorry” in those cases when you’re sincere and apologetic, a mea culpa for a specific act. We may have hurt someone’s feelings because we were in a bad mood and screamed at our kids, spouse, partner, friend, mailman, trash collector or store clerk for absolutely no reason, asked a waiter to describe how a pasta is prepared multiple times because we were too busy texting, accidentally kicked someone’s foot under the table, made a factual error in a post unwittingly, or expressed our sympathy when a friend lost a loved one and said, “I’m so sorry; I know exactly how you feel.” Big oops, you don’t.

We’re sorry, but here we’re talking about those times when we want to make a point, maybe disagree, but are reluctant to be direct and forthright. There we go again apologizing for… what? Why should we be sorry to make clear what we mean?  If we have to ask someone something or challenge an opinion and it’s an awkward topic, it’s almost become social, linguistic convention to preface it with, “Sorry” or “Sorry but I don’t understand that.” But what we do tend to do instead is almost passive-aggressive, if we want to get clinical. We’re sorry for diagnosing behavior when we don’t have a medical degree, but…..ok, we’re not really sorry. What this backpedaling really does, however, is diminish our beliefs and us.

A non-apologetic sorry can be unclear and completely miss the point such as, ”Sorry if I kicked your foot but it got in the way” is as bad or worse but we’ll save that for a future post. In this instance, we or others use the terms, along with the all-important “but” because we’re not assertive enough to own our convictions. Instead, we back off with an “I’m sorry, but…” to soften what we want to say. It gets back to the fact that we’re not so old to have forgotten we were taught to be polite, agreeable and not become what may be construed as confrontational, or at least not to say anything that hints at arguing out loud.

If you feel yourself shrinking every time you say those words in this context, perhaps you should wait. You will lose inches soon enough if you’re 50 or older, so why speed the process? You don’t need these words to help make your point in these cases. Moreover, it’s a bad habit, which more women than men copy, according to a recent op-ed in the New York Times newspaper by author Sloane Crosby titled “When an Apology is Anything But,” June 22, 2015.

How to break the habit, is the point of our rant and lesson in speaking up. Practice does make perfect. When you want to disagree with your friend’s review of a movie, for instance, try simply saying so. Not first, “I’m sorry” but instead spit it out straight: “I’d like to offer a different view.” You don’t even have to smile to camouflage what you feel or scowl angrily, either. Try it, “I think it really wasn’t that good because….But I hear what you’re saying.” Do it again, and again.

Note how you fare afterward. Do you feel you grew at least 1 inch?




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