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Why does ‘Sorry’ seem to be the hardest word to say?

Updated: May 17, 2021

A colleague once said that they thought I wouldn’t be happy unless I was apologising for something.

And whilst I know what they were getting at – my propensity to be my own harshest critic – its not something I think that I am ever going to change about my personality.

I have had very few jobs in my life where I was not in a privileged position of power and responsibility.

What that has managed to instil within me is an overarching confidence of knowing, and, arguably more importantly, believing, that it really doesn’t matter how big I fail, how much of a monumental pig’s ear I make of a situation or even how much I let a client or colleague down – I’m golden – I’m never getting fired!

Despite that, I don’t often fail big, indeed the silk purses are thankfully all around and clients get results they deserve, and I believe my reputation is one characterised by integrity, honesty and competence. Mixed in with – he will always be at least ten minutes late to nearly every meeting and his shoes are never polished.

But I will always apologise for my tardiness and I won’t excuse away or blame anyone else but myself for my weaknesses.

If I, or my business screws up, we put our hands up- and then in our pocket- and make good on the situation.

And whilst I really don’t want to imply a biblical inspiration for how I live my life, when it comes to sorting out a mistake the truth really will set you free!

It’s with this background that I view countless stories of people and businesses who have come a cropper trying to ‘deny..deny..deny’ or as Napoloen would have put it –‘Never retreat, never retract..never admit a mistake.

And yet the outcome is an ‘omnishambles’ causing misery, hurt and frustration as well as the obliteration of trust.

In most cases irreparably.

They never seem to learn that ‘it’s not the crime but the cover-up’ that causes the demise of the relationship.

It does make me wonder though am I the one with the warped view as it seems to be a minority opinion that coming clean and atoning for the error is the way to go.

I cannot ever think of a situation where I took this stance and it didn’t work out just fine. It’s very hard for someone to get angry at you if you are clearly saying ‘this is what I did and this is what the impact of that was and this is what I’m going to do to show you how much it means to me that you aren’t losing out in having put your faith in me.

So why do so many organisations, whether they be political parties, religious groups, corporations both as employers and service providers adopt the culture of closing ranks and circling the wagons against the victim of the unfortunate event?

I think it’s that all of these are human-made constructs and hence ultimately it is human error that leads to the situation that requires to be remedied; and yet when a human feels that they must take personal responsibility they do not have the skills or the self-confidence to do so. They think they will be punished so do all they can to suppress truth and expressions of remorse.

The duty of candour now being imposed on medical practitioners is probably easier to get ingrained in that profession because at the highest level many could not do such a good job as they very often do unless they had no fear of failure.

However, without a set of core values that direct how you see your place in the world and how you want to be seen by others not being afraid could lead to hubris and arrogance.

None of us are really any better than anyone else- and if you wouldn’t want to be mislead then you shouldn’t mislead – its as simple as that!

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