I would extend this to say that not only are you not obligated to apologize, if you aren’t sorry, don’t say so.

This is just a personal peeve, but it’s a good one. I am infuriated by artificial apologies. I don’t point out that they are lying when it happens, because I don’t want to introduce the possibility that I will have to issue a fake apology too.

Yesterday, I was marooned on a phone call with a bank clerk who said they were sorry five times. This clerk was not sorry once. We both knew it. They were trained to say they were sorry any time a customer is irked. This isn’t helpful. The situation was irksome. When they had the opportunity to relate and say, “I would feel the same way if I were stuck like you,” they instead said, “I’m sorry,” a blanket apology that warms zero hearts and serves no purpose except to check a box.

When I further complained that they had taken 30 minutes of my time and did not help me even a little bit, they got defensive and said that their colleague had not given them all the information they had gathered. I could have said, “I’m sorry,” but I pride myself on not issuing fake apologies and not being a total jerk. Mostly.

I went on to explain that while the situation is not their fault, as a customer advocate, they could point out this unacceptable situation, which is not at all unique. They could report this interaction to someone who can adjust the policy, someone who can afford to care about customer pain, perhaps the mythical being who is allegedly listening in on this carefully recorded line. “For the record, I am very upset, but I am not upset with you.”

“I’m sorry,” was all I got in response.

They were actually sorry by the end of the call, but probably only for taking the call.

In Perfect Town, customer service is always staffed with people who have developed the maturity and sincerity to actually be helpful. Instead of this, the trend has been to remove customer service completely and pretend it hasn’t happened. The remaining staff are people pleasers who have no one to please most of the time. The customers who get to them are already angry and frustrated and the reps have nothing to offer. It’s perfectly natural that no one wants to answer the phones.

“I’m sorry to have this conversation,” is not the same as being sorry with someone for the source of the conversation.

When it’s called for, I take the time to explain why I could be sorry, but I’m not currently able to be sorry, e.g. “If I empathized with you more than this, we’d each need a box of tissues.”

Other times, it’s fine to just say “Oops,” and leave it there.

Alienation is contagious. Maybe don’t pass it on with fake apologies.


What do you have to be sorry for? You don’t have to!! Buy my book or ask me for a freebie. Leave a copy on the subway–the kind of subway that 19th century enthusiast might frequent.

Wassamatta, Inc.

So many things!! There’s a mockingbird at my window lately, and I’m re-remembering that they sing way before dawn, sobriety is going really well, and yet I am pretty consistently cranky and attention span is more of an attention burst. Spring!!


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