Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Daily Deliberation #5

I've heard the following advice many times in my life: "Never apologise". Is it good advice?

Corollary: celebrities always answer the question "Do you have any regrets?" with "No regrets". Are they lying? Is it possible to live life without having regrets?

14 Comments:

Blogger Susan's Husband said...

1) No

2) Link.

July 31, 2007 8:52 AM  
Blogger Daran said...

I always told my servicedesk people to apologize if they screwed up because: it usually helps, it doesn't cost anything and it doesn't have to be sincere.

July 31, 2007 8:57 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Duck, I've never heard that one before. Where'd it come from? Why wouldn't you apologize if you were sorry for a word or deed. This is far different from the pro forma apologies to disgruntled customers which, as daran points out, are good business practices.

Do celebrities have regrets? Depends on just how megalomaniacal they are. On the other hand, can you imagine a 30 second sound bite on things you really regret.

July 31, 2007 9:12 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

erp: I believe the full quote is "Never complain, never explain, never apologize." It's been attributed to a variety of people, and was probably coined by Benjamin Disraeli, but it's most often associated with Henry Ford. In full context that quote epresses an attitude of self-sufficiency and stoicism, and also (I believe) of good manners, not bad ones: if you don't complain, you shouldn't have to do much quarreling, and if you don't make a habit of quarreling there should be fewer rash words to apologize for. It's not meant to justify Clintonian stonewalling when you've gotten caught.

July 31, 2007 10:23 AM  
Blogger erp said...

Thanks Joe. I didn't know about the third part of the phrase.

July 31, 2007 12:42 PM  
Blogger Mike Beversluis said...

Re, 1) Don't apologize to someone who doesn't deserve it or won't accept it. Imus is an ass, but apologizing to Sharpton was wrong. Otherwise, go out of your way to mend fences.

2) I think they're lying; it's the "self-actualized" answer. People truly without regrets are sociopaths.

July 31, 2007 4:17 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I do see some benefit in the no regrets approach. Of course everyone has had moments in their lives that they wish they could live over again so that they could do things differently. But spending time actively regretting mistakes of the past can drive you nuts, since there is nothing you can do to change those mistakes.

And changing events of the past could have unintended consequences. Sometimes mistakes are beneficial. For example, I went to a staff meeting of my consulting company last week. We all took our turns talking about the projects we were currently working on. A majority of the contractors were working on a large project that was late and over budget by over a year and a half. It's what is known as a "death march" project. Everyone on the project was unhappy. I was on that project for six months when I first joined the company two years ago, but I managed to tick off one of the PMs, and I was removed from the project. Since then I've been working on more rewarding projects. Some of the people on the death march project asked me for my secret for getting kicked off.

As the saying goes, no good deed will go unpunished.

"No regrets" isn't so much a denial of regrettable mistakes as it is an attitude that forbids dwelling on things that cannot be changed and remaining optimistic about the opportunities gained from mistakes.

August 01, 2007 4:43 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I, too, have often been rewarded for my stupid or thoughtless behavior. It's better to be lucky than smart.

If you hurt someone who didn't deserve to be hurt, you should apologize, and, even more, make it up if you can.

That's if it was done unintentionally, by miscalculation or stupidity.

I don't put much stock in apologies from people who did things deliberately. As, for example, at sentencings in criminal court.

In that case, mere words won't do.

August 01, 2007 9:32 AM  
Blogger martpol said...

In the UK at least, there is any case quite a tension between the two concepts of "apology" and "regret". Spineless or litigation-fearing politicians, when pushed into a corner on some obvious and costly mistake, never say "sorry" or "I apologise". Instead, they say they "regret" - or "sincerely regret", or sometimes "feel sorrow for" - the consequences of a mistake.

The suggestion is supposed to be that, really, no-one was at fault for what happened, but we all know that terrible consequences ensued and hey, someone needs to stand up and articulate people's collective feelings.

The funny thing is that media outlets are now starting to take the semantic short-cut and report on such comments as if they really are apologies: for example, when Tony Blair recently didn't apologise for Britain's role in the slave trade.

August 02, 2007 11:52 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

"Never apologise". Is it good advice?

It is awful advice, for two reasons.

Credibility. You cannot hope to have people put any credence in anything you say or do -- you cannot earn their respect -- unless you meaningfully apologize where you went wrong.

An example from a previous life: For reasons that don't bear going into (absent someone's curiosity), I failed to note in sufficient time that my squadron wasn't going to have enough instructor pilots to execute the planned training.

Short answer to what then: Instructors were going to have to fly one weekend a month over a three-month period (this, after working 60 hour weeks).

Whoever advocates "never apologize" needs to explain how I could hope to retain the loyalty of my wardroom without apologizing the them for that outcome, and, what's more, explaining in detail how I failed to prevent it.

Second reason (I hate the term, but can't think of one better offhand): self-improvement. It is absolutely no fun getting up in front of a bunch of people, and telling them you screwed up. That is a powerful incentive to avoid screwing up in the future. Failing to apologize requires making self-absolving excuses, which, clearly, fails to get at the root of the problem.

Is it possible to live life without having regrets?

Sure, if you are a psychopath.

As for me, my brain scarcely lets me get through an hour without dredging up some shortcoming or another to feed the regret machine.

August 03, 2007 11:44 PM  
Blogger David said...

I always thought that the never apologize advice only applied to one's public life. Anyone who never apologized in their private life would soon find it very private indeed.

As for regrets, I've had a few -- but regretting is not constructive. Where we are is the sum of where we've been.

August 04, 2007 5:52 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

... but regretting is not constructive.

Why? Regret is as unpleasant as truly apologizing. Consequently, the desire to avoid regret will affect conduct, probably all to the good.

Granted, your mileage may vary.

August 04, 2007 5:03 PM  
Blogger David said...

It depends on what the meaning of "regret" is.

"Geez, that was a bad decision. I'd better not do that again" is the source of all wisdom, but is it regret?

For me, "regret" has a tinge of obsessing about something in the past that can't be changed at the cost of taking action now to change the future.

August 04, 2007 6:31 PM  
Blogger DarkSock said...

I peed in a horse once.




Sorry.

February 18, 2011 11:20 PM  

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