November 11, 2019
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‘I’m sorry’ has become the go-to excuse. It needs to stop

Stock photo | BDN
Stock photo | BDN

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately: the rise of using “I’m sorry” as the go-to-excuse for everything. Saying “I’m sorry” is so overused that even BuzzFeed has made fun of it.

“I’m sorry” has morphed into an all-too-convenient means of dodging accountability. I’m not sure when this trend took off, but it seems to be overtaking society. When did saying “I’m sorry” suddenly become a free pass for not taking responsibility for your actions?

David Maxwell, co-author of “Crucial Accountability Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior,” stated that “we live in a culture of no accountability.” Being accountable for your actions not only is critical to building trust in your personal and professional life, it also is the foundation for building a positive reputation and, ultimately, your career.

Corporations (Volkswagen, BP), politicians (Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner), athletes (Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez), and celebrities (Kanye West) have taken the “non-apology” to a new low, paving the way for the rest of society to follow. The Millennial generation seems particularly afflicted.

When your role models have made a career out of saying “I’m sorry” (and it apparently works for getting them off the hook), why would you think that there is anything wrong with doing the same?

There is.

“I’m sorry” is the latest and most pernicious capstone of a seemingly endless stream of banal excuses for failing to do what you said you would do. It used to be “my dog ate my homework” (which at least earned a point for creativity). “I’m sorry” is the coward’s way out for not owning up. It needs to stop.

Nearly everything, when overused, loses its value. This is particularly true for apologies. Just because you say you are sorry does not mitigate the impact of your actions (or inactions). A hollow or insincere apology is worse than no apology at all and signals epic laziness.

Take responsibility for your impact, regardless of your intentions. It does not matter that you meant no offense or harm. What matters is that you acknowledge your impact, make amends by taking immediate action to make it right — and never make that mistake again. (Don’t worry, you’ll make others.)

The reality of the working world, the one in which an employer pays you to do a job, and to do it well, is that accountability matters. Not only do you need to show up on time for your interview (“I’m sorry I’m late” = no offer), once hired, you need to step up, perform as promised and be accountable for your actions.

Do what you say you’ll do, by when you said you’d do it, and do it meticulously well. When you mess up (you will), spend your energy making the situation right rather than making excuses and swiping away your failure by saying how sorry you are.

Do this, and then on the rare occasion when you really do need to apologize, by all means, do so with real sincerity, humility and contrition. 

Otherwise, be prepared to hear “I’m sorry” from your employer, followed by “you can no longer work here.”

Lisa R. Miller is founder and chief career catalyst at C2C, College to Career, where she helps college students, recent graduates and young professionals navigate the transition from college to career.

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