Re: Ruffled Feathers

Subject: Re: Ruffled Feathers
From: "Dick Margulis" <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 4 Mar 2001 14:46:48 -0500


I respectfully disagree, while acknowledging that a great many wise and experienced people share your view.

I think we agree that showing a sign of weakness only encourages authoritarian bullies, gives them the illusion that they have power over you, and leading to an escalation of their tactics.

Where we disagree is that an apology is a sign of weakness. On the contrary, I think it is a transformative sign of strength, and failing to apologize is a sure road to becoming a victim of blackmail.

When you fail to apologize, immediately, sincerely, and professionally (rather than melodramatically or effusively), you set up a situation where the petty tyrant believes you are hiding your error and are going to be living in fear of exposure.

On the other hand, when you do, as others have suggested, apologize quickly and simply, the recipient of the apology is nonplussed, to say the least.

True story, with the last such person I worked for: I contacted someone in a different department about some matter without going through my boss, although I copied him on the email. My boss came to me a few days later and said that the "tone" of my communication had offended the other person in some way. I _immediately_ (reading aloud what I was typing while he was standing there), wrote an apology to the woman for having offended her and assured her it had been unintentional, with a copy to my boss. He stood there, mouth agape, astonished at my "courage" (his word). "I would never be able to do such a thing," he said. Within minutes, I received a reply from the other person (whom I had still not met or spoken with), assuring me that she had never felt offended by anything I had written to her in the first place, and that my boss must have imagined it. (It later turned out this was one of many of his routine subterfuges aimed at intimidating subordinates.)

The rule I learned many years ago is the pacificist principle: speak truth to power. It has served me well, and I commend it to others, although I admit it takes a good bit of practice before some people are comfortable with it. Apologizing for an unintentional offense is an effective form of speaking truth to power.


Dan Brinegar wrote (in part):

> I would
>like to add the following for the benefit of the original poster--
>"Never apologize, Lieutenant; it's a sign of weakness."
>The moment you accept or display any guilt or blame in this situation, said
>petty bureaucrats
>will be on your case till the cows come home...


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