I hurt you. I lied. I did wrong.

Simple statements. Yet, most people can’t say them.

While social convention says we should expect an apology from those who offend us, modern society also says we must never actually apologize. We must never acknowledge our transgressions. We must never say, “I’m sorry.”

At least not without qualification.

Not Sorry When I started working summers for a hotel in my student days, the first thing I had to learn was the art of the sincere nonapology. The concerned look. The seeming active listening. The use of the words, “I’m sorry,” qualified by a phrase that starts, “that you,” followed by a recitation of the grievance.

“I’m sorry that you feel the room is not up to your standard.”

“I’m sorry that you thought the room rate was lower.”

Most often that’s enough to satisfy a guest who is distressed, looking for validation, or easily placated with an ego stroke.

The cardinal sin was to admit error, to take responsibility on yourself or on the hotel. Mistakes would be fixed, as best they could be, but we never apologized for them, only for the guests’ ill-conceived expectations. I’m sorry that you expected courtesy, service, quality, your money’s worth, but the fault lies in your misconception, not with our action.

That lesson of early adulthood has made me sensitive to a simple truth: As much as we may want to apologize, to take responsibility, we can’t. We must not express even sympathy or empathy. To do so may belie the possible existence of fault. Crossing that line sets off tremors in the hearts of administrators, lawyers, and insurers.

To be continued.…

(I’m sorry that you may have expected a conclusion.)

I’m forever,

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