You Need To Say "I’m Sorry"

You need to say "I’m sorry"

You need to say “I’m sorry”

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to discuss the significance of saying “I am sorry.”

First a quick update:

“Jason Russell’s public meltdown”
What caused the bizarre public behavior of the leader of the “Kony 2012” campaign, Jason Russell, who ran naked in the streets, beating his fists on the ground? While his representatives claimed it was caused by “exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition” watch the TV interview I gave to the Today Show Australia for my insights and analysis of his behavior here.

Now, let’s talk about why you need to say “I’m sorry.”

In 1976, Elton John wrote in his famous song that “sorry seems to be the hardest word.” What does it mean when we say “I am sorry” and why is it so difficult for us to say such simple words?

In my newsletter, “The twelve most important words you will speak”, I identify four phrases (twelve words) that are critical to a marriage or any relationship; words that can lead to the happiness, health and longevity of a relationship; three of those words are “I am sorry”:

In Spanish, the expression, “I am sorry” translates to “Lo siento” which literally means “I feel it.” Saying you are sorry, signifies that you understand that you have wronged or hurt someone, that you regret your actions because you value the person and relationship. When you say, “I am sorry” you express vulnerability but show courage and strength of character. A sincere, heartfelt and empathetic apology inspires forgiveness but does not guarantee it – nor should you expect it. When you say sorry, you are saying it for the other person, recognizing, acknowledging and admitting that your actions or lack of had an adverse effect on the other person. When spoken appropriately, these words can heal a relationship and neutralize shame, humiliation, hurt, offense and insult. Read more.

And this leads to another benefit of saying “I’m sorry”: conflict resolution and customer service.

One of the customized training programs I present to corporations is about customer service and identifying customer needs. Executives are often shocked to learn that one of the primary needs of customers who have had a negative experience is simply the validation of their negative experience and the validation of their feelings.

I teach that when a customer service representative listens sincerely and fully to the customer’s complaint or experience and is able to respond with “I am sorry” or “I am sorry that you had that experience”, the customer’s intense emotions such as anger, distress, betrayal, embarrassment, disappointment or revenge can often be almost immediately neutralized.

There are three key reasons for this result:

  1. The customer feels that he or she is significant, his/her feelings count, that she has been heard and that someone cares and respects her.
  2. Hearing the words “I am sorry” also often neutralizes a complaint because the customer feels validated but also feels that someone is accepting and admitting responsibility for the negative experience.
  3. “I am sorry” neutralizes the power struggle because the customer feels vindicated and feels that he or she has a voice

Thus, when a company representative acknowledges responsibility for a valid customer complaint or concern and apologizes, the result is customer satisfaction and retention. But those same three words, also generate benefits for an individual who says to someone in a personal relationship, “I am sorry”.

The ninth step of the Twelve Steps program to recovery involves making amends to people that we have harmed or injured.

Of course, ‘making amends’ often involves much more that just words; it involves action. But the first step to healing a relationship (making amends) is to accept responsibility for our actions and for the results of our action, and then to resolve to do whatever is necessary to correct the pain or damage we have done. However, when we are able and willing to say “I am sorry”, we begin to relieve some of our own guilt and we begin to tap into the emotions that we might have been previously denying or repressing. Simply put, we are able to ‘get if off of our chest.’

In order to sincerely express regret for our actions or behavior, we must think about the actual pain we have caused the other person and we must become aware of what we truly feel about our involvement, our behavior. Many of us engage in denial and we try to convince ourselves that we are right as a way to avoid facing and feeling the real pain that our actions have caused; denial can be driven by the fear of being able to admit to ourselves we were wrong because of the subsequent judgment and self-loathing in which we might engage. Thus, it is often easier for us to blame the other person or deny all responsibility rather than to accept responsibility for our actions and the harm we might have caused the other person. And although, this is a selfish response on our part, the irony is that only when we are willing to accept responsibility and admit that we were at fault are we able to truly set ourselves free and gain a sense of peace and resolution.

By voicing “I am sorry” to the other person, we neutralize the power struggle, we lower our defenses as well as the defenses of the other person. As listed above, we also validate the other person; we show respect, care, concern and we reaffirm that they and their feelings are valid and significant and; we reaffirm the importance of the relationship. Further, when we express our vulnerability, we allow the other person to open up and we create open, effective communication that is focused on a solution rather than blame, criticism, ego, denial or fear.

As a behavior expert and therapist, I have found from working with clients that we cannot run away from our guilt, even when we try to consciously deny it. The guilt becomes like a poison and the denial of our responsibility, behavior and the harm we have caused only creates more problems and heartache; often it begins to erode at the relationship because it can breed resentment and contempt on the part of the other person.

By acting quickly and speaking from our heart, we can rescue, rebuild and strengthen the bond and relationship. And although, Elton John is right when he sang “sorry seems to be the hardest word”, in the long term, saying ‘sorry’ is actually the better choice – protecting us from further pain and protecting us from potentially destroying our relationship.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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