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.