Instead of Saying ‘I’m Sorry,’ Try This
Break your habit of giving up power
I have an embarrassing problem. A problem that pokes its tiny stupid head above the surface when I least expect it.
Recently I was walking my dog around the block, admiring the snowdrops coming up in my neighbor’s lawn. Suddenly both Ginger and I had to jump and scatter to avoid collision, because a biker barreling down the sidewalk finally looked up, swerved, and just barely missed us.
Stunned, I shouted out the first words that came to me —
In a moment of heart-stopping shock, before righteous anger set in, before I had time to think through a response that truly reflected the fact that I narrowly missed severe injury, my reflexive reaction was to loudly apologize.
Breaking the “I’m Sorry” habit
“I’m sorry” has been misused and mistreated, to the point that it has lost its meaning. We offer it up in so many situations — sometimes well-meaning, sometimes as a way of just ending the conversation and moving on to something else. Thus, many of us don’t trust it even when someone sincerely speaks it to us.
I know I need to stop saying “I’m sorry” when someone nearly bicycles over my body, but the problem is that those two little words have become habit. It comes out of me automatically, the same way I say “buh-bye” before I hang up the phone. That habit has run and created a life of its own, so much so that I have to stop and plan up a different response just to keep from being redundant and/or disingenuous.
So I’m trying something new, something I learned from a friend.
A note about this friend: he is white, male and Christian. It’s important to name this, because his advice for breaking the “I’m sorry” habit could only come from a particular kind of privilege.
His advice couldn’t be more simple: Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” say, “Thank you for understanding.”
Ten minutes late for a meeting? I got stuck in the store, thank you for understanding!
Big typo in an important email? Oops! I’ll spell-check next time. Thanks for understanding.