Saying, "I'm Sorry," When You Have Done Absolutely Nothing Wrong!

by: Monique Honaman, JD, MLIR

Here’s my question: Why is it so difficult to say something, anything, even just an, “I'm sorry” not when we personally did anything wrong to someone else, but when that someone else is going through something difficult?Why do some people hear of someone else going through a rough patch and decide to disappear for a while. Suddenly, they are too busy for a phone call, too busy to stop by, too busy to write a quick email!What’s going on here?

Does this look familiar? My friend, Lisa, was recently told by her company that her job was being eliminated. She has four weeks to wrap-up what she is working and transition out of her role. She understands. She’s not bitter. In fact, she has an incredibly positive attitude about the whole thing.What she is devastated by, however, are the number of “friends” she has at work who have stopped communicating with her.People whom she used to speak with daily (in person, via phone, or email) have suddenly disappeared. She hasn’t heard from them … at all. She asked me why I thought this was. All I could come up with is a comparison to my own experience when I was going through my divorce.

I found when word got out that I was going through my divorce that some people rallied around me in full force, while other friends seemed to pull back. I don’t think that old adage of “ you find out who your friends are” holds true necessarily.I don’t think that some people intentionally decide, “You don’t have a job (or a husband) anymore, and I’m not going to be your friend.” Rather, I think that some people have what I’ll call “survivor guilt.” Perhaps they wonder why you lost your job, or lost your marriage, and not them. They feel guilty talking with you and worry about complaining about how much work they have to do, or how frustrated they became with their husband last night.This seems cruel, they think, when you don’t even have a job or a husband.

I also think this group lacks a certain amount of social etiquette or emotional intelligence.They can’t quite comprehend that “ignoring” a situation doesn’t make it go away.In the case of my divorce, it wasn't going to go away no matter how many friends chose to ignore it or ignore me. Furthermore, ignoring me in my time of “need” doesn’t make me feel any better. “Bad” things happen to people every day. We can’t ignore them and pretend they don’t exist.

I have heard people rationalize their behavior by saying, “I know I wouldn’t want to talk about it over and over again, so I’m not going to bring it up … at all!”I’ll concede that is a valid point … except there is a difference between bringing it up, acknowledging it, and moving the conversation forward to a different place, and bringing it up, belaboring it, and leading the person to a place of negativity.

What’s a person to do? What’s the right answer? Here’s my advice. When you have a friend going through a tough time, address it head-on, let them know you are here for them, then move on. Be mindful to the clues the person gives off. Do they want to talk about it, or would they rather not, and be open to either.

If a friend or co-worker has a parent who passes away, just say, “I’m sorry to hear about your mom,” and move on. If a friend or co-worker loses her job, just say, “I’m sorry to hear about your job … and I’m happy to refer you to a recruiter I know if you want an introduction,” and move on. If a friend or co-worker is going through a divorce, just say, “I’m sorry you are going through that. Please let me know if I can help you with your schedule (or something like that),” and move on.

The point is this: address it; don't ignore it. As human beings, we want to feel connected to others. We want to feel recognized and understood. For our friends or colleagues to suddenly ignore us because of what we are going through becomes the tremendous “elephant in the room.”The consequences persist.It can become difficult to re-establish a friendship and the former level of communication without an obvious awkwardness over the gap that existed.

I think Mahatma Gandhi had some incredible things to say. This is one of them: “A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.” Don’t be a coward. Be brave. Just say those two little words, “I’m sorry,” and be a good friend, colleague and co-worker. Be capable of showing love. Let people know you are aware of what they are going through. Acknowledge it. Support them through their valley. Letting them know you are thinking of them is so much more powerful than ignoring them and the situation at hand.

What do you think? What is your experience with saying, “I’m sorry” when you have done nothing wrong?

You can contact Monique at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit her website at www.HighRoadLessTraffic.com. Monique earned her JD and MLIR. She is the author of "The High Road Has Less Traffic." Monique is the founding partner of ISHR Group, Monique is a leader among women, having received many awards. She writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com and LAFamily.com. Follow Monique on FB at www.facebook/highroadlesstraffic and Twitter @highroadthebook.

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