I'm Sorry You Feel That Way

A key employee on your team asks to speak with you about a sensitive issue in which you have a role. You have an "Open Door Policy" so the two of you meet. When she explains the issues from her point of view, your impatient response is: "I'm sorry you feel that way."

Your spouse has been struggling to communicate with you for several days, and finally asks to have a conversation. Visibly upset, he tells you what is bothering him and how it's affecting him - and your marriage. After listening for a few minutes, your angry response is: "I'm sorry you feel that way."

A customer complains about a product - on your company Facebook page. Your public response? "We're sorry you feel that way."

On her blog, customer service and leadership expert @KateNasser advises:

Bury the phrase “I am sorry you feel that way.”

It is a masquerade of an apology that scars team relationships. 

It seems to scar many important relationships. I recently posted a Facebook poll, requesting feedback on how people feel when a boss, spouse, co-worker, parent or friend responds with the phrase "I'm sorry you feel that way."

The majority of the responses fell into these categories:

  • Marginalized
  • Annoyed
  • Brushed Off
  • Disrespected
  • Negated
  • "Handled"
  • Invalidated
Comments included strong statements such as:

"Let's finish the discussion. Simply being sorry doesn't finish the conversation." @mikehenrysr

"This is pretty much the classic disarming response. But it doesn't really work because it oozes insincerity. It really means: Your opinion is making me uncomfortable. I want to move on because there is no real way for me to address your concerns." - @kmclogan

"If not done properly, it almost always comes off as 'I really don't care how you feel, because you're wrong and I'm right. Now please just drop it.'" @Mitchcon4

"This response is a way for that person to avoid any personal responsiblity...its a cop out, invalidating response." - @ClarisaGayer

The original intent of this statement was to validate the thoughts and feelings of the person with whom we are speaking. Whether or not we agree with their perspective, the idea was that we acknowledge we have heard and understand what they have said. Unfortunately, this expression has evolved into something else - an excuse that denies any responsibility on our part. This phrase invalidates the other person and deflects the importance of their words. It also serves as an excuse for us not to look at ourselves and any part we may have played in the situation. When used improperly, this expression is a serious form of disrespect - one that also stunts our own professional integrity, emotional growth and the relationship itself.

Responding to a serious concern with sarcasm, fear-based anger and denial of responsibility breeds mistrust. The  impact of distrust will destroy a company culture, a relationship, the loyalty of your customers. A tough customer, an irate employee, an angry spouse or partner - all of these people are expressing themselves for a reason: They want to be heard. Do we have the courage to listen?

As leaders in our professions and in our family life, it is extremely important that we realize respect is earned through our actions as well as our words. When responding in difficult situations, our facial expressions, body language and voice inflection are key to positive communication.

People who bring tough issues to us are doing so because they value the relationship. They want to address the situation so that the relationship will continue to grow and move forward. When we truly listen and respond with empathy, mutual trust is reinforced and the relationship deepens. And after all, isn't this exactly what we want with our team, our relationship, our customers?









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