When You Have to Say I'm Sorry

Perhaps the two most magic words in the English Language are "I'm sorry." And yet many people don't seem to have this phrase in their vocabulary. Saying "I'm sorry" can:

clear the air
show your genuine concern
eliminate bad feelings
foster trust
encourage honesty
allow communication to go forward

"I'm sorry" can also do a great deal to assuage your own guilty feelings - but that's a topic I'll leave to clergy and counselors. Here's what I'd like to concentrate on: How can you use an apology to improve communications?

I've learned a lot of things about apologies over the years. Some of them I had to learn the hard way - at great personal cost. But I learned them, and I'm glad to share them.

• When in doubt, apologize. Saying I'm sorry" only takes a few seconds and doesn't cost any money. What's to lose? It might make you feel better. And it most assuredly will make the other person feel better. So don't deliberate. Say it.

• The sooner you say it, the better. It's better for you, because you'll stop stewing about it. And it's better for the other people because they'll stop stewing about it.

• Better late than never. You may think its' too late to apologize. Wrong. It's never too late to apologize. Remember: "I'm sorry" are the two most magic words in the English language. They can work miracles - even months or years after the fact. Indeed, a colleague once told me that a family riff had separated his siblings for decades. Eventually, one of them said "I'm sorry" - and normal family life resumed with surprising ease.

• Make an apology even if the other person hasn't noticed your mistake. Maybe you think you can slip something past the other person. You’re right. You might be able to hide the problem - but only for a short while. eventually they'll find out about the mistake. So you might as well fess up now.

• Don't make excuses. People don't want to hear excuses like, "But I don't have the time." or "But nobody ever told me." People want to hear "I'm sorry," and then they want you to move forward.

• Make things right. Try to correct your error. Offer a little something extra - a bonus, a refund, a small gift. Make the other person feel "taken care of"... not "taken advantage of."

• Prevent future screw-ups. Try to figure out what went wrong, and then fix that situation so it doesn't happen again.

• Don't say it too often. "I'm sorry" works best if you don't overuse it. With apologies, frequently often under-cuts impact.

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