Sunday, 22 April 2018


“Sorry but you’re going to have to stay late. That mailshot has to be out by last thing tonight. You really should have reminded me about it yesterday.”

“I told you about it last week, when my workload wasn’t so crazy. That would’ve been a good time to get it done. Now I’ve got all the monthly reports to finish, as well as the mailshot, and Marion has asked me for another mail merge as well. To be honest I’m knackered, pissed off and - ”

“ - Well there must have been a reason I couldn’t do it with you last week. Good luck with it anyway. I’ll see you in the morning.”

We’ve all been there: working for someone who cannot admit a mistake, or dealing with a friend who always has to be right. If you’ve even the faintest sliver of wisdom in your brainbox, you’ll understand that this kind of behaviour comes from fear and insecurity. 

If someone is incapable of offering an apology, you know they are suffering from a lack of confidence.

Thankfully the person who made me work late was a very smart and kind man. He’d climbed exceptionally quickly up his professional tree, and now as head of our department he was well able to do the job, but too inexperienced to understand that showing weakness is a sign of great strength.

People who feel the need to mask their inadequacies are attracted to positions of power, so it comes as no surprise that politicians never say they screwed up. 

How much might we admire Arlene Foster, if she stood in front of a camera and told the world that the Cash for Ash scheme had been an ill-thought out disaster; that she wanted to apologise for unnecessarily robbing Northern Ireland of self rule?

Imagine Leo Varadkar giving a press conference and saying sorry, I know the money we save on chasing welfare cheats is less that what it costs us to find them, but being a Scrounger Baiter wins votes, so that’s the way it’s going to be.

Not going to happen, because despite all their spin teams and psychologists, our leaders have not grasped the simple fact that nothing wins trust more than an apology; nothing makes us feel empathy more than someone who willingly and sincerely says they failed to do the right thing.

In a recent experiment three people were asked to deliver the same political speech to an audience. The first read it perfectly; the second made a mistake and went into meltdown, sniffling through the rest of the text; the third also made a mistake, pointed it out to the audience immediately, joked about it and moved on.

When asked afterwards which speaker they most trusted, the audience naturally chose the last. That speaker had shown themselves to be the most human: knowingly happily fallible.

It has taken half a lifetime to shake off the steely-plated armour built around me at English Public School. Life would have been much easier if I’d been shown in my youth that showing weakness is not only permissible, but beneficial.

Mind you, it’s not enough to simply apologise. If you want to win trust, persuade friends or motivate your staff, you have to really mean it when you say sorry.

We are not fools. We can tell when someone’s words have the solidity of a dead fish.

Recently we’ve seen an increase in flabby disingenuous apologies, designed to appear sincere while distancing the perpetrator from the crime. These lily-livered half-hearted self-serving hypocrites offer statements that sound as if they were designed by committee:

“If some people might have felt offended, we would very much regret that.”

Such abuse of the conditional allows offenders to avoid saying sorry for what they did, offering sympathy to victims who somehow now appear distant accidental sufferers.

This new use of ‘would’ is riding on the back of a recent stampede of wild woulds.

“We would like you turn off your mobile phones before the film…”

“We’re making our final approach to Heathrow now,, so we would ask you to put your seat in the upright position…”

“We would like to offer our condolences to the families of the deceased…”

Inside my childish pedantic mind, I silently and pathetically take pleasure in answering each conditional request:

'But we’re not going to, so there! Nyaaah!’

Language is a river, ever-changing in shape, size and flow, so new words and old uses come and go, but this business of not seeing the ‘woulds’ for the ‘please’ troubles me on two counts.

Firstly because I am a sad word lover and, despite the seemingly endless blather in this colyoom, an admirer of lean prose.

Secondly, and far more importantly, this liberalisation of the conditional ‘would’ allows scumbags on all sides of the criminal and political divide to apologise without ever saying they’re sorry.

Thankfully my old boss and I had a good chat, and I tippy-toed on verbal eggshells as I delicately tried to explain how I’d have been far less grumpy about doing the extra work, if he’d taken part ownership of the cock-up, and stayed late to help.

I could see what an exceptional job he was doing, and realised how difficult it must have been for him to appear authoritative to staff older and more experienced than he was at the time.

We both said sorry and we both meant it. There were no ‘woulds’ or ‘mights’ about it.

In the process we saw each other as much stronger, more trustworthy people.
To this day we are friends.

©Charlie Adley

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