The research is ambiguous about whether women apologize significantly more frequently than men, though it certainly seems that they do. In the numerous blog posts I have read about the issue, however, I haven’t seen any discussion about men apologizing less than women. It might sound at first like that means the same thing, but I believe that there is a substantive difference in this second perspective. Asking if and why men apologize less than women takes them out of the role of the normative group.
Perhaps what fascinates me most about the consideration of which group apologizes more is the very group-ness of the debate. I know I apologize. A lot. Here are some recent examples:
- I am sorry that you are listening to the irritation in my voice. I have been on the phone for 55 minutes and am hungry. I miscalculated the amount of time this issue would take to resolve. I am confident you are a good person. Right now, however, I feel like you are the enemy.
- I am sorry that this happened to you. I believe that as an adult who works here I should have been more influential in making this a good place for you to learn. Let’s talk about what I can do to rectify this situation now.
- I am sorry he hurt you. There are so many time like this when I want to have set things up better for young people like yourself.
- I am sorry that this whole thing seems like it was hard on you. I am operating on the border of my thinking right now. We can put our heads together and figure out how to improve this situation or, if you prefer, I will come back to you next week with some suggestions.
- I will not tell you the name of the employee. I understand that you said you want to have it for educational purposes. I don’t know you or your company policies. I am sorry if my refusal makes your life harder, but I won’t do it. Jobs are too hard to come by. Besides, my point here is not about employee behavior but about employee training.
- I am sorry that I was not clearer. You need to get that from one of your peers. I will not be doing that for you. Can I help you find someone from whom you can get notes?
These examples from the last two weeks are real, but I am not holding them up as exemplar. Rather, they stem from a practice I have been working on for the past ten years or so. I am old. I am a man. I am white. I am middle class. I have a good life. While that does not make me bad, wrong, sinful, or disgusting, it does give me a position from which to apologize for the world not working better. Others may argue if this position is earned or unearned, deserved or privileged. But, in any case it is a position which I must acknowledge. I have the deed to this property and cannot pretend I do not.
What I have learned so far in my experiment is that apologizing for things makes me more aware of the myriad things contributing to outcomes, of my own sense of agency, and of how prevalent defensiveness is. I work to make each of my apologies sincere and to let others know when I am not apologizing. At times, I am sure my candor about these things seems ill-mannered. Civility is important, but manners are tricky. It seems like manners are used at times to keep others out and to put an invisible fence around the property, defending it instead of acknowledging it.