Why is it so difficult to say those 3 words?

By sudha.hariharan

April 17, 2017

No, it’s not  “I Love You” but “I AM SORRY”…..while most of us can and do muster enough courage to say “I Love You”, few apologies—“I am sorry” –3 simple words  but oh so difficult to say!

Take the case of public representatives of two American institutions—United Airlines and the White House. Both found themselves grappling with public apology.

Closer home we had a rude MP who not only assaulted an airline official but did a volte face on the floor of the House saying he was angered because the official allegedly made derogatory remarks about MPs and  the PM. Not a single word of apology though that would have settled things in a jiffy!

Going back to the United Airlines incident where a paying passenger was violently evicted from the flight, CEO Oscar Munoz’s televised prostration was an  “apology of an apology”

Around the same time, President Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, was berating himself for having favorably compared President Assad of  Syria to Hitler  and referring to Nazi death camps as “Holocaust centers”.

American Psychologist Harriet Lerner who studied the subject for 2 decades says, “The  most healing words in the English language are: ‘I’m sorry’ .They have the power to remove anger and hurt, improve relationships and self- esteem.”

So much so the fine art of repentance is a skill taught in business schools and promoted by high-priced consultants. Yet all kinds of offenders in seem to struggle with apologizing.

Consider, for instance, a senior member of an executive team, Harshad Shah, who became angry when a junior vice president opposed him in a meeting and refused to change her position. He lashed out at her at the meeting in the presence of the group, sarcastically questioning her intelligence and her commitment to the company in difficult times. Other members of the team told him he should apologize, he balked,”I’m sorry she’s upset, but I didn’t do anything wrong—she’s got to learn to take the heat,” he declared.

When the offender is worried about losing face, he tends to side-step the issue but, offering an apology does not signify weakness of buckling down; it could actually enhance your reputation. \Apologies mend relationships: when the fabric of a relationship is torn, an apology is an effort to repair.

Many of us feel embarrassed when we are in the wrong and go into denial, minimize the issue and even try and blame the victim like the senior executive did with the junior vice president. Even if an apology is offered, it may be unrecognizable as one because the embarrassment of the person giving the apology distorts it. This can be a disastrous mistake; credibility, once lost, is very hard to gain back.

So how do you build a good apology? There are three elements: Acknowledgment of a fault, regret for it, and responsibility for the offense.

The key to saying sorry perfectly, according to public-relations experts, is projecting sincerity, humanity, and a plain-spoken demeanor — in this age of whipsawing social media, you better do it fast.

The head of United, Munoz, should never have been allowed to take three swings at correcting and apologizing for an incident that was on more social media than Kim and Kenya’s  and if his behavior is anything to go  people are still struggling with the term –I am sorry! In failing to properly apologies, Munoz – who received a ‘communicator of the year’ award from industry publication PR Week managed to turn a colossal mistake into an fully-fledged crisis, and in the process steal the title of ‘most despised corporation in America’

In a digital age, you have to be a fast thinker. Many corporate take prompt steps when there is a hue and cry and when furor erupts online. It took Pepsi less than 24 hours to apologize and retract a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign.  That was a rapid U-turn that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

Find words that are clear and accurate—not provocative

Don’t apologize for the wrong thing.

Apologies that are insincere are some times worse than no apology at all.

Consider the angle of approach. Decide whether it will be easier for you to apologize position to position or person to person

Take the focus of yourself and keep it on your counterpart and the three elements of an apology—acknowledgment, regret, and responsibility.

“I want to apologize” is not an apology. Don’t hide behind vagueness, circumlocution, or clichés.

There’s another thing….adding-on….” I am sorry if…..” That’s not an apology. For example saying “I’m sorry if I hurt you is not a sincere apology. The comment did hurt so it would be right to say” I am sorry I hurt you, it won’t happen again”.