Communication is Key – The Power of Saying I’m Sorry

Communication is Key – The Power of Saying I’m Sorry

Play fair. Don’t hit people. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

     Robert Fulghum

How hard is it for you to say: I’m sorry?

How often do you hold it back when you know it’s the best thing to say?

How sincerely do you mean it when you finally say it?

Just this morning, after arriving home after an early meeting, I (Tom) found my two kids upstairs fighting each other – kicking, yelling and hitting. My wife was in the shower, so they were taking advantage of her distraction. I immediately ran up the steps and broke up their fight. I picked up both of them, carried them into the room they share and put each on their own beds.

You’re going to sit on your beds until you’re ready to say, “I’m sorry”.

Five minutes went by. There were no apologies. I said again,

Are you ready to say, “I’m sorry”?

Still no response.

A few moments later:

He needs to say it first, from my daughter.

Further silence.

At the 10 – minute mark, my daughter was finally ready:

I’m sorry.

So, I turned to my son and asked:

Are you ready to say, “I’m sorry”, too?


More silence.

Then … finally,

I’m sorry, too.

As they got up off their beds I had these parting words:

We don’t treat each other like this.

Saying, I’m sorry is one of the hardest things to do in every relationship. We too often think that it shows signs of weakness, vulnerability and fault. Few of us like to expose those things about ourselves. Often times, we only say I’m sorry if someone else says it first, especially in situations in which we know that we have been wronged. Few of us like to be the first; somehow it, too, implies weakness, vulnerability and fault. But once one of us takes the risk, even if it still takes the other person more time, it still gives that person the freedom to take the risk too. And it’s at that moment when the first I’m sorry is shared that healing and reconciliation begins.

One of my (Michael’s) sons, when he was a child, had the habit every time he did something that we felt warranted an apology, of saying rapidly, carelessly and unconvincingly:

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

And he would look at us with this self-satisfied expression, as if to say:

I really don’t think I need to say that. But I’m doing it just to satisfy you, just to get me off the hook and out of trouble.

But we knew that he wasn’t sincere and we needed to work with him as he matured, to help him understand what I’m sorry really meant.

Like our young son’s, sometimes our apologies aren’t sincere. Sometimes we say the words, but we don’t really mean them. Sometimes we say them just to get ourselves off the hook, to brush the situation under the rug. Sometimes we say them in order to appease the situation as quickly as possible in order to get out of the work of actually helping to heal the situation. But that never really heals it; it just prolongs the problem.

Saying I’m sorry is never weakness. Saying I’m sorry is actually strength.

When it’s genuine, the words I’m sorry can change the tone of a difficult situation, easing tension and melting anger away. I’m sorry are two of the most healing words – the most powerful words – we know.



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