Stop Being Sorry

There are a number of words and phrases that get a reaction from me, and one of them is one that we all say (or hear) all the time: “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry I’m late. I’m sorry I didn’t get this done on time. I’m sorry I lost my temper. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Personally, I no longer say “I’m sorry” very often, and I usually don’t like hearing it from others (unless I have done something or someone else has done something purposeful). More specifically, I tend to reserve my “I’m sorry” to situations where I have done something intentionally or where I did something (or didn’t do something) with full awareness of the likely impact. In other words, a clear miss and even then I’m more likely to approach it as I discuss below – by owning it and committing to change it.

Why? Because “I’m sorry” is often meaningless, and many times it’s selfish. I say “I’m sorry” to make everything better or okay between us, and it’s a subtle way for me to be off the hook for whatever I did or didn’t do. Think about this – how often do you get tired of hearing that someone is sorry yet the thing they did or didn’t do keeps happening over and over? In other words, nothing changes, but you or they are always ready with the “I’m sorry.”

But what are we to do without our “I’m sorry?” Simple – replace “I’m sorry” with “Here’s how I’m going to change, get better or do it different in the future.” There’s real magic when someone tells you how they’re going to change or be different in the future. Why? Because it gives some sense of confidence that the person will change, and that matters more to me than any “I’m sorry.”

In addition, when someone is willing to own their actions, acknowledge the impact they have caused and see (for themselves) the need for change – not just that the other person didn’t like something – the likelihood of real change goes up dramatically. It also opens up the conversation to deeper understanding of the impact and a collaboration discussion about the needed change.

If you’re really sorry, commit to change something, ask for support with the change, and be self-accountable for the change going forward. That’s so much more powerful and impactful for everyone, AND it results in a different outcome in the future, which is so much better than an “I’m sorry.”

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