“I am sorry!”

Just 3 small words!! They should be easy to say? But they always get stuck in the throat!! Though a poor cousin of the more illustrious phrase ” I love you” , this one “I am sorry” is perhaps the most under used part of our vocabulary. Though the chances to say sorry are legion, & we continue to create newer opportunities by the dozen every day, still we will try every possible subterfuge to avoid accepting I did something wrong. One of the most profound interactions that can occur between people, apologies have the power to heal humiliations, free the mind from deep-seated guilt, remove the desire for vengeance, and thus ultimately restore broken relationships. But do we say we are sorry?

Have you ever wondered why saying sorry is difficult? Clearly it is our ego that comes in the way. Firstly we believe we are infallible. To accept our mistake requires humility. But we are full of the opposite: our pride, comes in the way. Even when the mistake is obvious, it takes courage to eat the humble pie & accept your fault. Traditionally we are wired to defend ourselves, argue, to try and prove that the other person actually erred, & you are the wronged person, someone who needs the apology, rather than accepting that I need to make an apology. This is not a good place to be in, since as soon as you accept that you made a mistake, you are ready to move on. Remember Robin Sharma,” There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. …From struggle comes strength. Even pain can be a wonderful teacher”.

Think about it…. Saying sorry & learning from the mistake is far better than the others who are stuck there quibbling over right and wrong & trying to apportion blame. Think of your life as an open book. Move forward, close a chapter & start afresh. “Proper apologies have three parts: 1) What I did was wrong. 2) I feel bad that I hurt you. 3) How do I make this better?” as Randy Pausch has noted. While 1 & 2 are important elements, the real focus should not be on the past, but on the future…how do we make it better? “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” said James Joyce. It is not the mistakes we make but how we correct them that opens newer opportunities, leading to newer futures.

If you understand apologies better, what is involved is the heaviness of shame, guilt, and humiliation, that the person feels when he considers his act & wonders whether to apologize. Riddled with it is also the initial reluctance to apologize, since it involves accepting that you are wrong. But if you can jump over that chasm, you will be charmed by the simplicity of the act of apologizing,.. It is not really an Everest you made it out to be, it is just a step forward. And if your feelings are genuine & you can convey the heartfelt remorse, more often than not you will be met with the spontaneous generosity and forgiveness on the part of the offended. The cathartic feeling lifts both involved. The new-found warmth unleashes the transfer of power and respect between two parties. And this is where I am Sorry & I Love You both phases & phrases merge and you emerge stronger and more empowered than before.

I recollect 2 occasions of saying sorry which left a deep impact on my life. Here goes:

Very early in my career….1982, 2 years after marriage, I had got a job with Siemens. First time working in an MNC. Within a few weeks of joining the new job, was my wedding anniversary. First anniversary in Mumbai, surrounded by family, having recently shifted jobs & location. Everyone was invited to a big bash at home in the evening. Much planning had gone it to make the party memorable. Went to office in morning, promising I would be home by 6 pm, to help before guests arrived. Something came up in the office, I forget now what it was. 6 became 7, 7 became 8 and 8 became 9 pm. Guests had arrived, food was getting cold & I was still in office. I had called at 5 pm & told I would be late. But after that somehow I could not or did not call again. Obviously, this was well before the cell phone era. At 9 pm my resourceful, journalist father-in-law decided he should call Siemens’ Head Office & find out where I was. The Security Guard who picked the phone just said office is closed. Not to give up, my FIL used his contacts & found the residential telephone no of P. W. Khandekar, Personnel Director of Siemens India and called him up to say that I , a rookie new joinee, had not returned home from office. And could he help? PWK being PWK, he called the office, made the Security Guard climb up to Personnel Dept on 3rd floor, locate me in the conference room & tell me to go home immediately as PWK the Personnel Director was holding, on line & wanted a report that I had left office!!!! Imagine my embarrassment in front of new colleagues & bosses. But a Director’s orders have to be obeyed. I went home fuming & angry at the supreme embarrassment in a new company & amidst new colleagues. The party celebrations were a wash out. All had food and left. And I turned to my wife of 2 years & roundly berated her for insulting & embarrassing me. Needless to add, we slept with our backs to one another, anniversary regardless.

Next morning, I had convinced my FIL & my wife that they had stepped way out of line by calling PWK, a Director at home, for a husband missing a dinner. Sheepishly I went to office, sought an appointment at 5th floor with Khandekar & sallied forth with butterflies in my stomach to apologize to him. When I entered his cabin, I began profusely saying sorry. PWK looked at me top to toe. Asked me to sit down. I feared a sack, 1 month since joining. And then PWK spoke,” Why are you apologizing to me? Go home and say sorry to your wife!!! what you made her go through was terrible.” End of interview. Have never forgotten the lesson. (Sotto Voce : I am still apologizing to Vinita after 40 years, he he ha ha)

The second episode: I was an Asst Manager in Industrial Relations assisting the Chief Manager IR Policy, Mr Arun Bhende. I was deputed to handle an IR Crisis which had developed in our Nashik factory. Having just 3 years experience till then under my belt, all in recruitment and training functions, never worked in a plant environment, I went with much trepidation. Bhende’ one line direction to me was IR is practical logic, so do whatever you feel is right, I will back you from Head Office …..a tall order. But I took to IR like a fish to water, quick decisive, fast actions, & move forward was my agenda. Every evening I used to call to brief Bhende…more to restore my own confidence, to sense-check what I was doing. Bhende was always supportive. On one evening call, Bhende began saying, shall we brief Pandit ( our Executive VP). Brashness of youth took over, “Boss Pandit is fool, He does not understand IR. He is theoretical. He has only handled training” etc etc. All along Bhende is trying to stop me, ” Arre Vikas, But he is our super boss, we must put him in loop” etc. And unstoppable Vikas machine-guns on, “You talk to him if you want, I don’t want to talk to that impractical chap” & so on. Finally Bhende tells me, when I stop to catch my breath,” Vikas, Mr Pandit is in my room, you are on speaker phone, & he is hearing all.” My immediate reaction was to disconnect the line. Went all cold inside, thinking what a hole I have dug myself into. अभी तो जॉब पक्का गया. You don’t insult the top gun in HR in a feudal company like Siemens, you just don’t. After an hour of walking in the plant, I called back Bhende. His advice, come to Mumbai tomorrow, meet Pandit & apologize. That trip Nashik to Worli was the worst I have done. Continuously agonizing how will I broach the topic? How can I cover up? My goose looked well cooked. I reach Pandit’s room in Head Office ( incidentally the same room which Khandekar used to occupy) & as soon as I entered, Pandit begins,” Ok, now I know what you think of me. Impractical am I? A fool?” I am sitting with my head down, wishing the chair would swallow me. ” Sir I am sorry. I over stepped my boundary”. “No no, it is ok Now at least I know exactly your opinion of me” Don’t know which Fairy Godmother interceded on my behalf, but Pandit’s next words were,” Vikas you will be a senior manager some day. Do be careful. Don’t talk so loose. See where & to whom you are talking” I sheepishly yes sir, yes sir-ed my way out of the cabin. Truly admire the largeness of Pandit’s & Khandekar’s heart that they accepted my apology & taught me life’s lessons in the process.

To end this piece , I truly admire the Jain practice of मिच्छामि दुक्कडम् at the end of Paryushan. All greet each other as Micchami Dukkhadam i.e. I ask for your forgiveness for any harm I did to you knowingly or unknowingly by my words, actions or by my feelings. In effect what they are saying is “May my bad deeds (dushkrut) become fruitless (mithya).” ” May all the evil that has been done be in vain”. What a concept!!! What an Universal Apology!!! The power to heal & forgive comes through so strongly.

Most Humbly I accept, I am flawed, I err, again and again.

Micchami Dukkhadam: vikas

26 Replies to ““I am sorry!””

  1. Very relevant article in today’s times. Saying sorry needs toove from being just a formality, to actually taking responsibility for one’s actions. My wife and I realized that the best way to teach our children to take responsibility for their actions is to first take responsibility for our own actions. We make sure to apologize to them whenever we are wrong and that has taught them that apologizing doesn’t make you smaller.

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    1. Indeed Abhijit that is a great learning you are passing on to your children
      In fact apologizing never makes you smaller….quite the contrary. You feel at peace with your action and with the other person. If children learn this young, then they will have a much better life and relationships in future. Great that you and your wife are setting the right example in front of them

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  2. On small matters saying “sorry” has become a formal routine. I stamp on the guy next to me by mistake.. and there comes “sorry” with no difficulty ..sometimes even without the feeling of guilt.

    The issue becomes real when I have done something which has very serious consequences. I feel I will be blamed. I feel I will have to pay for the mistake…So why accept? Why say “sorry” ? Look at the political debates..no side wants to say sorry!

    Like your 2 episodes, I want to quote one of mine:

    There was an ongoing development project between the R&D of Cibatul and that of Atul. At one stage ,we had a meeting of the senior teams from both sides to take stock of the situation. Dr Venkateswarlu (bka Venkat) had convened the meeting. For those who were in Atul during 1990s ,this name needs no introduction. He was the President of R & D at Atul.

    At one stage during the meeting ,there was a huge difference of opinion between the 2 sides and the discussions took a rather ugly turn. To protect my team ,I too started arguing in its favour and in the process was rather disrespectful to Dr Venkat.

    The meeting was over without any conclusion.

    Later in the evening , I thought about what had happened in the meeting. I felt that even if my point was right , the way I put forward the same was totally discourteous to someone of the stature of Dr Venkat. I consulted a friend of mine to take his opinion on what should I do now to correct the situation. His point was that the damage was done and there is no point in raising the matter again..and that soon the matter would be forgotten.

    I was not convinced. I called up Dr Venkat the next morning and asked for his time for a personal meeting. Till then ,my interactions with him were far and few. I was not sure how he is going to respond.

    He immediately agreed for the meeting and soon I was there standing in front of him, profusely apologising for my behaviour the previous day.

    To my surprise, he made me absolutely comfortable . He offered me to sit and then came forward on my side with a jug of water , poured water in a glass and offered the same to me.

    I don’t remember exact words, but I recall that what he had said had put me fully at ease.

    He told me to forget about that incident and went on to say what all Atul/Cibatul can do together. He inquired about my family and we ended up talking for over 30 minutes on a variety of topics.

    He told me: “ Now we are friends. You can call me Venkat and I will call you JL , if you agree”

    From then onwards, we became friends in real sense of the word.

    We kept in touch for years even after he left Atul and settled in Hyderabad. If I had any work in Hyderabad, he was always there to help.

    He sent me a personal invite on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding..which I was very happy to attend.

    I must confess that I have lost touch with him for a few years now . What I want to convey , however, is that one act of genuine apology can have a huge positive impact on the relationship!

    Dear VS; My response has already become too long and hence I conclude it here, only by saying that once again you have chosen an extremely relevant title and have dealt with it with the same level of adroitness that you always show in your blogs!

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    1. JLS
      thanks for your comment and sharing
      My pleasure of writing a blog is never complete till I read your comments
      It brings a sense of completion to my experience

      My main thesis is an apology should not be at the level of the lip, but also backed by head and heart
      If you do not change….take action….after the apology it is meaningless
      an apology must be felt and acted upon for it to be genuine and it to heal both the giver and the receiver

      Great story you have shared about Dr Lu
      he was indeed a great man and a humble person
      I had appeared for an interview with Atul but was undecided about joining
      Tarun Sheth and SSL asked me to make one more trip to Atul ” because there are some developments”
      I reached there by Flying Rani and SSL was to meet me the next day morn
      That night at the main GH it was Dr Lu and RP Singh (remember him?) who convinced me to join Atul and helped talk me through all my objections
      I am sure the whiskey we drank must have also helped
      But Dr Lu was always so measured in his talk and so convincing a personality that it ws difficult to say no to him
      I too maintained touch with him after he was in HYD

      Another time Abhijit Mukherjee had got an offer from DRL and then someone from Atul called DRL and gave some bad feedback about Abhijeet
      DRL was in 2 minds about taking him
      he had already resigned from Atul and was in a real quandary
      at that time I reached out to Dr Lu
      and it was on his intervention that DRL renewed the offer and allowed Abhijit to join
      I can never forget that help
      He was indeed a great man
      SSL, SKL, HK, TPD all respected him
      we were fortunate to have known him

      Once again thanks for your comments and thanks for sharing & reviving memories
      keep your love sir
      it is imp to me
      vikas

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      1. Thanks VS. Very nice to know of some more stories about Dr Venkat.He was/is indeed someone who has positively impressed all those who came in touch with him.

        Writing this brief response..as I have come to Abu with Smita for a week long mediation camp..soon we will be required to be in silence most of the time of the stay..
        Best wishes and keep pouring your wisdom through such thoughtful blogs

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  3. I can imagine what would have happened in Mr.Pandits room. You were lucky to have such boss who having known your views about him and still you remained in Siemens. That’s “the class” of the then management. the blog is as usual V-Classsss. I remember USM always provoked you to write. He must be happy in the heaven reading your blogs.

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    1. Girish
      yes indeed we were lucky to interact with giants like Arun Bhende and Khandekar and Mahale and Pandit
      Uday always pushed me and was unhappy I did not take him seriously
      But you are right
      I often feel his benign presence and happiness

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  4. Very dispassionate analysis of human mind. Afflicted by ego, most of us , hesitate to utter that 5 lettered word which if spoken sincerely, sets everything right.

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  5. Vikas Bhai

    Will just say ” thank you ” for this insightful note. Read once & than repeated , already feeling LIGHT.

    Warm regards
    Vijay Kalra

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  6. Dear Boss,
    Truly some experiences teach us for life. Saying sorry is indeed hard. But when you keep aside your ego and just say sorry it heals you from within. And when someone accepts your apologies without keeping a grudge within, it is such a big example for you yourself to be forgiving and merciful to others and this humbles you.
    Really love what you wrote. It’s so much from the heart. God bless.

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    1. Anthony
      many thanks for your comments
      I actually also wanted to talk about the Biblical practice of Confession, which in my opinion is so close to an apology: accepting that one made a mistake and doing it in front of God/Priest/Powers that be
      But already the blog had exceeded so I had to stop short
      thanks for bringing up mercifulness and forgiving and humility
      they are all so linked
      apologies and forgiveness is intricately tied together and the more we practice both better our chances for creating a better world….physically & mentally

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  7. A small word “sorry” very well articulated boss, the moment you say sorry to someone his / her 50% of pain immediately goes away. Which really means that you value your relations more than ego and it’s the first step to save or repair that relationships…..

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  8. Vikas

    You have touched upon the very core of what makes folks humane.

    Yet another excellent thought provoking blog. Kudos Vikas.

    Nikhil

    PS Many who say they are “sorry” may regret their actions but show no remorse . At this stage it remains lip service.

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    1. Nikhil bhai
      if the apology does not result in action to change it is indeed hollow
      and if you are willing to change then the future potentialities are enormous
      Proaction and moving FW requires reconciling past accounts
      and I believe that is where apologies help

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  9. Vikas your blog reminds me of a song from the group Chicago ” Hard to say I’m Sorry”. So well put one only says sorry if one values the relationship with the other person and wants to be trusted in the future.

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    1. Rupesh bhau kase aahat tumhi
      You have seen so many styles of people handling conflicts that you can write your own Handbook….What to do in a Crisis.
      Relations and the desire to maintain them on an even keel us really the the glue in conflict resolution. But then I am preaching to the converted. Take care. Stay Safe

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  10. Rightly said, a small word but needs great courage to say Sorry and a still larger heart to accept the apology.
    This small word builds, repairs / mends many large bridges which help sailing ghe life boat..

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    1. Yes Yesh it has to be mutual. Then only can it heal. As HR we are lucky to see all hues n colors if bosses and it is am amazing menagerie. One learns so much just analyzing one’s own actions in the day and looking at what went right and what demands change.
      Keep learning. Keep analyzing my friend
      Enjoy

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  11. Very well expressed Sir wiyh your life reminiscences. Indeed, saying sorry can certainly save relationships as to err is human, to forgive divine; so make someone divine and make them happy. Thank you for reminding us this simple but effective Mantra in human relations.

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