I mentioned recently that I tend to be an over-apologizer. But I stubbornly resist offering an apology when I feel pressured into making one that I don’t feel is deserved.
Have you ever been in that position? It’s an uncomfortable feeling.
The other person feels that you’re in the wrong, and you don’t. There wasn’t a miscommunication that can be worked out. There’s just a difference in opinions. Maybe the two of you follow different social conventions. Maybe you think the person is being overly sensitive. Whatever the reason, you see the situation very differently. Should you apologize then?
I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule for this. If one person is regularly pressuring you to apologize when you don’t feel like you did anything wrong, it’s possible that person is bullying you to make you feel weaker. If it’s an individual or rare occurrence, on the other hand, consider these factors:
- Is the issue worth a rift? If a co-worker whom you normally get along with mentions being offended by something that seems silly to you, it might be worth apologizing just to maintain a good relationship. Example: “It bothered me when you ate chocolate in front of me after I told you that I am trying to lose weight.” You don’t need to apologize for your behavior if you’re not sorry for it, but you can still apologize for its effect. Simply say “I’m sorry that I made it difficult for you to stick to your diet. I’ll keep that in mind in the future.”
- Are you sure that you understand the whole problem? If a co-worker’s complaint seems to have come out of left field, ask for clarification. Example: A co-worker says “It really hurt my feelings when you didn’t offer to get me something out of the vending machine.” Instead of becoming defensive or thoughtlessly apologizing, ask “Can you explain why that bothered you? I don’t understand what I did wrong.” Your co-worker might explain that normally she would never expect the offer, but she’s seen you extend it daily to everyone else. That information could help you be more empathetic to your co-worker’s feelings—even if you still don’t think you did anything wrong.
- Am I getting this a lot? If multiple people have indicated that you should apologize for things you don’t feel sorry for, reflect on whether you might be insensitive or rude to others. Maybe you were raised in a thick-skinned household and think everyone else needs to “learn to take a joke” or “toughen up,” but if you’re getting the same kinds of complaints from multiple avenues, it’s more likely that you need to be a little nicer.
What are your thoughts on apologizing when you don’t think you were in the wrong?