what is it about saying sorry?….

Sir Elton John sang “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”.   What is it about “sorry” that makes it the hardest word to say?  Don’t get me wrong. This is not a diatribe against others.  I am very much fingered in all of this.

What do we tag on to the word that makes everyone reluctant to say it?  From personal to professional life.  Is it because we think it puts us in a position of weakness?

A bank chief didn’t say sorry in his first response to the public after a seven-hour outage recently that crippled the ATM and online network.  Instead he blamed the outsourced vendor.  Outsourcing is another topic in itself, but if you’ve chosen to outsource a piece of your support function, it doesn’t mean you’re absolved of all responsibility.  In fact you are more responsible as it’s not in your direct control but you are still accountable.  As far as the consumer is concerned, it’s the bank they are interfacing with.  Pushing the blame is the saddest approach anyone can take.

A lot of the spokespeople who responded to the recent floodings in Singapore, never uttered a single word of “sorry” too.  Instead, they started shifting blame among themselves and managing expectations for future floods.  We are not stupid neither too demanding.  From the get go, I’ve said that all anyone needed to start with was “sorry”.  That this should not have happened.  It is unprecedented but it’s no reason for us to continue with this.  We are a first class country and we want to ensure first class quality of life for businesses, citizens and residents.  There will be a wholistic enquiry across relevant authorities and agencies and an overhaul of how we approach this.  We can’t promise an immediate resolution and there are practical considerations, but we will address this to the best of our ability and resource.  We just want to assure you we have your interests at heart.

That would have shown more compassion and I think people would have been more supportive.

So what was “sorry” tagged to for both cases?  Are they afraid that saying sorry would be tantamount to admission of guilt and therefore open them up to lawsuits?  That’s a practical consideration but surely saying we are sorry for your plight, does not open the floodgates for suits?  You are just commiserating with those affected.

Or am I being too naive?

What of saying sorry in the corporate world?  Heaven forbid! 😮 That would mean you’ve made a mistake!  Would that cost you a promotion or your job?  Or your face? I’m not suggesting saying sorry and breaking down.  It’s about assuming responsibility and managing the situation and responses for the benefit of all.  Does that not happen?  Everyone takes credit, right?  Even wrests it.  But is there no culture that rewards leadership that assumes responsibility and rights the wrong?

What about family feuds that carry on sometimes to the next generation?  Would saying “sorry” have healed the wounds?  Take away the money and greed equation, just a normal family squabble that’s gone awry.  Like mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.  Husbands and wives. Parents and children.  Would a single “sorry” have prevented grandchildren from growing up without the love of grandparents or prevented estrangement or divorce between a couple?

The problem about saying sorry is that we tend to justify our actions along with it. Our pride requires we do that.  I think that’s the last thing the injured party needs to hear.  All we need to say is “sorry” and eat the rest of our words where unnecessary, (difficult as it’s a human tendency to be defensive).  Or is it really that simple?

The injured party needs also to accept the apology and move on and not keep alluding to history with every histrionic.  There is no such thing as forgiving but not forgetting.  It is not forgiveness without forgetting.

That way, the transgressor rests assured, that there’s no more baggage.  So everyone can move on from there.  Not move back.

I don’t know.  What message are we sending to those who watch us?  Is the environment and society we live in so unforgiving?  We can strive for perfection.  But we are not God.  Man is fallible.  We make mistakes.   So be human.  Say sorry.  Mean it (by trying not to repeat the same mistakes).  It is not about appearing weak.  It is about being gracious.


4 thoughts on “what is it about saying sorry?….”

  1. Yah… isn’t it sad? I had another encounter with an established public.. no wait, the new-fangled word is restructured, hospital today. The encounter just leads me to think they are set up around administration and not medical care. Worse, if you are old. But that last line is just conjecture.

    The real thing? The admin focus doesn’t make them any more efficient. Or better with CS and medical care. They missed out on my dad’s fractured ribs!!

    I know there are no meds for fractures and that it takes time to heal. But at least, we could have managed the care for my dad accordingly so he’d be more comfortable and not have to endure unnecessary pain. They were so callous and standoffish for a medical institution. When I spoke to my friend a geriatric specialist and just described the symptoms on the phone and told him the doc at A & E diagnosed muscle injury, he said it sounded like a fracture. Trying to get an appointment as a follow up patient at the hospital was a nightmare. They allowed admin issues to overrule helping a patient.

    So we brought my dad in to my friend for a second opinion and true enough he picked out two fractured ribs!! And tremendous help on helping manage the care. It’s such a relief… no thanks to the hospital.

    When the dust settles, I was thinking of writing in. But that’s another heartache waiting to happen. Cos I’ll bet they’ll deflect everything and won’t even say sorry. We’re back full circle, not saying sorry cos they are afraid of admitting liability.

  2. Why do we not say sorry? I believe it has to do with pride. Unfortunately, we have become a country of people where saying “sorry” is seen as a weakness.
    While we acknowledge that humans make mistakes, it does not apply to us.
    Case in point….I recently lodged separate complaints to my cable TV provider and my mobile phone provider (same company, different departments). It was over the inconvenience they put me through. Guess what, none of their so-called Customer Service departments said sorry. It was almost as if the golden rule of customer service is to not say sorry.
    Someone should tell them that saying sorry is not an admission of fault….or do they not know that?…sigh…….

    1. It is really a sorry state (no pun intended) …

      Yesterday afternoon, someone who said he is from the same service provider you wrote of, called regarding a letter I wrote. As I was rushing something out by a deadline EOD, I politely said I wasn’t able to continue with the call and requested that he called back either this morning or Monday evening. He hesitated both times and unabashedly said he couldn’t call me back on either day and whether he could call me back at 6pm yesterday! 😮 I had an early dinner appointment but didn’t feel the need to explain anything to him and continued with the same request. With no apologies, he kept re-stating that it wouldn’t be possible for him to call me on the days that were better for me and pushed again for 6pm the same day.

      I was somewhat miffed but curious at the same time. So I asked him why not? He hemmed and hawed and to cut my misery, I just asked if he were going on leave, which he unconvincingly answered without any clarity and I just stopped him short and asked him to arrange for someone else to call me.

      What the… right? No apologies. And add insult to injury pushed for a call to his convenience, instead of the customer’s. What’s happening?!

      1. My guess is he is from a call centre and his KPI is measured by how many cases he closes off. Handing over complaints is probably frowned upon. That’s my gripe too….we have sacrificed quality service for operational expediency. This is exactly the kind of society we have become….motivated by short term goals because of KPIs. We have become so blinded by KPIs that the fundamental objective does not matter anymore. We have become a human factory :p

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