Apologize by sending a box of candy

Are Apologies Relevant Anymore?

The #MeToo movement was overdue. It’s about time that men and women who sexually harass, intimidate or otherwise try to make other people’s lives miserable are finally being taken to task.

The list of sexual predators from the doctor who abused Olympic gymnasts to a noted Hollywood producer who preyed on rising starlets is too long to list. Most have issued apologies – sort of. But do the weasel words like “…I’m sorry I caused pain” qualify as an apology?

Are apologies even relevant anymore?

Do Small Slights Rate an Apology?

Most of us won’t rate a headline if we do something that offends or hurts a friend or business colleague. Nothing we do would be as egregious as the bad behavior that is making headlines. But some ordinary slights that used to be offensive no longer seem to be so.

I don’t like to blame everything that goes wrong in the world on social media. It does seem, though, that common courtesy is being diluted with the avalanche of tweets and posts that we read every day. We’ve become part of an “anything goes” culture.

Now It’s deemed OK to “like” posts that shame fat people or make fun of a friend. We lurk in the shadows as we silently agree, even when we do keep our finger from clicking on the link.

Please Say You’re Sorry 

The growing lack of civil discourse is not only apparent in the actions our elected leaders, but it’s seeping into our own relationships, too. Keeping appointments is seen as optional and not a firm commitment.

How many times have you heard from a friend or business colleague who will call or text you last-minute to cancel? Worse yet, they just don’t show up. I’d be surprised if you haven’t experienced that or done it yourself.

It’s OK to cancel, you think, because you’re too busy or you received an invitation for something more interesting to do. A friend of mind stopped giving holiday parties because so many people didn’t show up or even call to cancel.

It’s OK to be late to an appointment because you don’t want to waste your precious time leaving early enough to be on time. Heck, let the other person wait.

But it’s not OK. And it isn’t OK not to apologize. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long” isn’t enough. A true apology is, “I apologize for being late. My fault. I should have known the traffic would be heavy.”

How sweet those words will sound to the listener. If you’ve said or done something really hurtful, it would be appropriate to apologize and also send a follow-up note or a gift like a box of chocolates.

Above all, be sincere. When you apologize, mean it.

Are You Respectful of Your Clients?

Even clients are kept waiting or given excuses as to why a project is late. A number of years ago, at an agency where I managed a Big Four account, a member of my team was habitually late. One day we had an appointment to pick up our client on a street corner on the way to a meeting in New Jersey.

No matter how much I cajoled David, he insisted on finishing an email first. Of course, we were late. Why did I have to apologize for his bad behavior? But I did.

Some agencies have a rule that a client call must be returned within 24 hours. Why 24 hours? Is that considerate? Why isn’t the call returned before quitting time?

I’m the first to admit I’m not perfect. But at least I recognize when I owe someone an apology. At least I hope I do.

Am I being grouchy? Maybe I’m just an old-timer who thought the rule of “treat others as you wish to be treated” should still be respected in all aspects of our lives.

But, then again, that’s just me talking.

Leave a Reply


  1. Apologies are appreciated only if they are meant. Some genuinely apologise and others only do so because they have been caught out and are worried about their reputation. We have bore witness to this in the media.

    Apologising does not mean you have the right to continue doing as you have done. Choosing to hurt and disappoint others over and over again can not be put right just by apologising. Your actions will need to change whether you stop and think before making that commitment or you work on your anger/emotional issues before lashing out.

    Thank you for sharing this- much food for thought.

    • Phoenicia — spot on. Some people think they can say or do the same bad things over and over again because they can apologize. But the apologies aren’t sincere and their “victims” will always smell a phony apology.

    • Richard — it seems to me the problem is growing worse. Why is it so difficult to take responsibility when you’re wrong and use the two beautiful words that would make everything better: “I apologize.”

  2. Jeannette, I cannot agree with you more! There is an art to apologizing and like you, I’m afraid that it is a dying art. If we don’t apologize it sends the message that we aren’t wrong–that being late, cancelling at the last minute, or being a no show is totally acceptable. That is so not true.

    Apologizing is very important. Hope this blog spreads the word!

    • RoseMary — agree, that not apologizing means you didn’t do anything wrong, when a simple “I’m sorry,” would do wonders for your relationships.

  3. Agree with you that it’s lamentable that people are not polite anymore. Thankfully it’s not OK to be late for appointments in Sweden. If you cancel at the last minute there has to be an excellent reason for doing so. Not showing up for a meeting in Sweden is out of the question because nobody will want to have anything to do with you. It hence seems Sweden is in some respect more polite than the US. Saying sorry or apologizing is however a thing of the past for the majority of Swedish people.

    • Catarina — well, I’m glad that people are still on time in Sweden. Maybe apologizing is no longer in fashion anywhere. But that is sad.

  4. I think apologies matter. In fact, I’d say they matter now more than ever. Divisive politics, algorithms that keep you inside an ever-shrinking bubble of opinion and an aggressive “all about me” culture means that real apologies matter a lot. Social media may make people think its”OK” to be mean, but I think that people who get online and act like jerks are just jerks who happen to be online.

    You’re not grouchy to expect common courtesy, it’s called common because there is supposed to be an abundance of it.

    • Debra, excuse my delay in responding. You’re right about our changing culture. Common courtesy doesn’t seem to be the norm anymore. In the US I blame a lot of it on our political scene right now and hope nastiness and being a jerk doesn’t become the norm.

  5. You’re not being grouchy at all. There’s a lot to be said for common decency, which seems to go out the window a lot of the time these days. People get so wrapped up in doing their own thing. It’s sad in many ways. I’ve been going to more meetups, and it’s always frustrating when there’s a waitlist for an activity and yet a handful of no-shows can’t bother with changing their RSVP.

    • Jeri — not showing up to events is another big no-no. I’ve organized dozens of events for organizations I belong to and the no-show rate is always high and shuts out people who might have wanted to come. 50% no-shows for a free event is pretty standard.

  6. Well done, Jeannette! I, too, am disheartened at the lack of civility and manners that seems to be accepted these days. I always leave early enough so that I am not late, and if I’m late, I always apologize. I respect the time of others, and expect that my time should bar respected, too. It bothers me that so many people don’t send greeting cards any more. They might acknowledge your birthday on FB or in a text or e-mail. But the habit of sending a nice, hand-selected greeting card to celebrate a special day with someone you care about seems to be a habit of the past as well.

    • Doreen — I’m a big believer in sending hand-written notes and write a lot of them myself. I love receiving a hand-written note and if other people are like me, they love receiving them, too.

  7. Hey Jeannette,
    First of all congratulation for writing on this topic. This is a debate topic on all levels whether it be personal, social or on the internet as you pointed out.

    I have seen many leaders cursing and accusing others of false or made up reasons. later when they are proven wrong, they just say I’m sorry and try to get out of the situation.

    I agree with you that a true apology should be followed up with a gift or something like that.