Apologise, Yes! Explain, No!

Skill Development

Kaiyum examines our ways with apologising, for changing a scheduled appointment or a delay.



It’s totally normal and commonplace to experience a delay on your way to an appointment (especially if you have to contend with city traffic) and sometimes it’s necessary and expedient to change an appointment. However, how you communicate this is a fascinating minefield of subtleties and opportunities.

The norm: right words

Let’s start out by agreeing that conditioned and unconscious behaviour is almost guaranteed to sabotage any attempt at effective and authentic communication. A hasty ‘sorry’ just doesn’t cut the mustard these days when a bus displaying ‘Sorry Out of Service’ passes a bus-stop with a crowd of waiting passengers. Or when the owner of a dog that jerks itself free from the owner’s grip and comes at you growling and baring its teeth, and only when you comment about the correctness of taking responsibility do you hear a mumbled ‘sorry’ over a shoulder that’s already homeward bound.

Other possibilities

There are most certainly other expressions that are more effective in expressing a sense of regret and awareness that something needs to be set right. “Please accept my apologies” is a good start, to be improved upon by the addition of “… for …” and a description of what has proven unacceptable.

“I regret …”, “Please excuse me for …” and even “I’m sorry that …” are all valuable alternatives which involve a conscious attempt at genuine communication and healing. However, do resist the temptation to explain yourself; describing what you wish to correct is sufficient – after all, the person you’re apologising to must be able to understand what you’re apologising for, especially if there’s a time gap.

The packaging

This true story should clarify what I mean by ‘the packaging’. I had an appointment with a management team at a well-known chemical company to discuss presentation training. Only when I arrived at the site did I discover I’d been given instructions to the entrance for personnel instead of visitors.

By the time I’d driven to the other side of the plant, parked my car, registered and arrived at the meeting room, most of the available time had expired.

I knew that I had to ignore their mistake and my first words were: “Good afternoon, everybody. Please accept my apologies for this delay. How can we best use the remaining time you have available?”

Only as I was leaving after concluding the discussion (the training was confirmed!) did I explain what had happened, an explanation that at that moment received full attention and generated a suitable apology.

Explanation: required or …?

Leaving aside why there’s any need to provide an explanation, let’s look more closely at the process. You’re occupied with providing reasons for your need to change the appointment (or whatever); that’s your side of the story. But stop to consider this: do those reasons really matter to the other party?

In the end, it’s ‘no’. She has to change her plans, re-order her priorities for the afternoon, make space for a new appointment.

If you give priority to your side of the story, that means you’re focussing on you – not the other person.

Focussing on yourself indicates a certain childish need. Many a child is ‘interrogated’ and put under pressure to provide an explanation for what it’s doing and why. The child is afraid of being judged, disapproved of and ultimately rejected and excluded. What a child needs is to feel seen, heard, validated and respected in its own truth – the basis of feeling secure, loved, valued and accepted.

If you behave as I did at that chemical factory, then you’re focussing on the other party.

And if you wish to reach out (and ultimately motivate and influence) someone else, who is more important: you or the other person? Use this opportunity to let that person feel that she is important to you.

Who is more important? You, or the person you’re inconveniencing?

Respect without explanation

Consider the situation in which you need to change an appointment. Of course you’ve got your reasons – whatever they are. Resist the need you will probably feel to give an explanation and any need for approval you may notice, and transfer your attention to the needs of the other person.

It may surprise you to realise that you express respect for his time and for yourself: the fact alone that you take this decision (to request changing the appointment) should be sufficient; you don’t need to explain yourself or elucidate your reasons.

Try formulating it like this: “Frank, can we reschedule our appointment, please? Can you manage next week [day/time]?” or “Frank, I need to reschedule … (etc.)” You’ll be amazed at the effect of your clarity and decisiveness.

Whether your cat got run over, or you need to take the children to the dentist or that your other appointments were changed – all this is totally irrelevant for the other person. It’s only important for you. So save time, get to the point, and discover the space (*) that you create for yourself with assertive and mature behaviour!

(*) This space is the freedom you experience when acting without explaining yourself to anyone else, without feeling obliged by any conditioning to clarify the choices and decisions you make. The word ’space’ describes precisely what many people feel in the area of their heart.

Kaiyum, Osho News

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