I’m Not Sorry

The most important thing I learned in 2 years as a high school athlete (let’s just say, I’m not a natural) was simple: Never Say ‘I’m Sorry.’

My coach was emphatic about it. No matter how truly sorry we were about missing a ball, striking out, showing up late to practice, our apologies fell on deaf ears. “If you are truly sorry, it won’t happen again. Don’t apologize to me. Tell me you’ll fix it.”

Her intentions behind the ‘never say sorry’ rule ran deeper than a pet peeve. She knew all too well than women who apologize frequently, especially in the professional world, are less successful, less hard-working, and ultimately make less money that those who do not. The Grindstone calls it the ‘dutiful daughter’ ideal — The Telegraph references mens’ prevailing fear of hiring ‘Sorry Skirts.’ I’d venture to say that it’s not only a gender issue. Men — whether my superiors, an intern, or my peers — who apologize unnecessarily come across as weaker, less trustworthy and lacking in confidence.

Removing ‘I’m sorry’ from your vocabulary has nothing to do with rejecting responsibility. According to an April BusinessWeek article on the topic, “apologies act as a transfer of power from the offender to the victim.” A passive apology intends to do just that — give the victim the sense that he or she is in control, in order to demean yourself and earn their sympathy. Ultimately, ‘I’m sorry’ is a rejection of responsibility. There’s a better way to make things right:

“When someone accepts responsibility, they’re basically saying, ‘I’m in charge,’ ” says Adam Galinsky, a Columbia Business School professor who studies negotiation and power.

That means that emailing your boss about missing a deadline on a proposal shouldn’t read “I’m so sorry, working on it now.” It should simply read “I missed the proposal deadline, it will be resolved ASAP.”

What happens when you don’t say ‘I’m Sorry’ as often is significant. Suddenly, it means something. So when you are completely at fault, and the victim in the situation does deserve redemption, you can look them in the eyes and apologize like you mean it. But not about being busy this Friday.

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