When “Sorry” Isn’t Good Enough

A version of this article originally appeared in Entrepreneur 

If you know me, you know I believe in unconditional love. I believe we owe those who’ve messed up a shot at redemption. But what should we do when people fail to learn from and correct bad habits — when they act as if saying, “I’m sorry” is a get-out-of-jail-free card? I call this the “Sorry Pattern.” I believe it calls for a little tough love and a reminder that bad habits are a choice and have consequences.

We all have people in our lives who have played the “sorry” card too many times. (Maybe we’re guilty ourselves.) There’s the person who is habitually late for a meeting and mumbles “sorry” as she slides into her seat.  Or the guy who apologizes for exploding his lunch in the communal microwave (again) but can’t seem to clean it (ever). Or the kids who leave their skateboards at the bottom of the porch stairs, where it taunts fate, time and again.

Here’s what my dad told me back when I was young: “Sorry isn’t good enough.” He knew I felt bad when I messed up, but he wasn’t interested in my remorse. He was interested in results.  Since I wasn’t taking responsibility for my actions, he insisted that I own up to whatever the problem was and make a plan to correct it. Good parents, good friends, and good leaders call us out when it’s necessary. They put us on the path to redemption before serious resentment sets in.

By now, you probably already have someone in mind — someone who’s caught in the Sorry Pattern. Plan to have a friendly chat with them. But before you do, look in the mirror. How often do you have to apologize for a repeated offense? More often than you’d like?  Don’t feel sorry about x, y or z. Solve for it.

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