It's not okay. I mind. Worry about it.
August 24, 2008 4:28 PM   Subscribe

What do you say to someone who apologizes for something they've done that you're not okay with at all? This would be in a non-personal type relationship... more of a setting where you're the customer.

A few for-instances...

My landlord promised to fix an eyesore in my apartment but never has. I have reminded him many times. Every time I see him, which is pretty rarely, he falls all over himself apologizing, saying he's really sorry, he's terribly embarrassed, he's been meaning to do it and just got busy, he will take care of it soon... but he never actually fixes the eyesore. It's been a year and a half. Nobody is that busy. When he says these things, I want to say, "just shut up and fix it!", but I feel pressured into saying something I don't mean, like, "oh, that's okay." The fact that he says these things to my face embarrasses me, into feeling like if I don't let him off the hook, I'm being an ass. However, I wonder, if I was an ass about it, would that motivate him to actually come fix it? I just don't know what to say that wouldn't be out of line... There's an extent to which he is in a position of authority over me, so being a total bitch to him just doesn't seem right.

My wedding photographer promised to have our photographs to us in 8 weeks. It's been 12. I'm not a jerk... if he has had something important come up, I'd understand, but the fact that he has never even dropped me a quick e-mail to explain the situation (coupled with some surprises at the actual wedding) makes me think he's just more unprofessional than anything else. I've e-mailed him a couple of times to inquire about them, and only get answers that amount to "I'll call you when they're done." When I do get my pictures, I'm sure he'll tell me how sorry he is about the delay. I don't really care if he's sorry, and the delay isn't okay with me. What do I say?

I don't like to be contentious (which may be exactly why I end up in these situations), but I also am not such a pushover that I feel like telling someone that I don't mind what's happened when I do. I hate feeling like it's somehow my job to make someone feel better about not doing what they tell me they will.

Does your average person just suck it up in these situations and say "No problem"? Is there some brush-off response I can give that isn't flagrantly offensive, but somehow relieves me of forgiveness duty? Am I a jerk for wanting to withhold my ability to make someone feel less guilty?
posted by FortyT-wo to Human Relations (30 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When this happens to me in person (like your landlord situation), I say nothing. I just look at the person - it gets the point across that the apology really isn't good enough. And it generally gets results without confrontation.
posted by meerkatty at 4:39 PM on August 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

Honestly, in your examples it sounds like you're being a complete push over.

You think that your land lord is "in a position of authority" over you? Wha? You have a business relationship - you should kick and scream every single day until the guy fixes the problem.

If you look around you, you may realize that you're actually empowering people to get away with such behavior because you are seemingly so receptive to half ass apologies and excuses.

I sure wouldn't lift a finger to do something for you if I knew I could get out of it by saying, "Oh, I'm sorry! I forgot!"

Stand up for yourself. Call your landlord right now and say, "Look, you need to fix this right now. I'm tired of your excuses. When are you going to fix it?"
posted by wfrgms at 4:40 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

My stance on it is this: if it's a friend who, say, said that they would go do a thing for you, then never did it but apologized up and down for neglecting to do it...even if it screwed up your plans a kind of just let it go. Or, I do.

But if it's a business relationship (e.g. you hired a photographer, or you're paying rent), it is absolutely unacceptable, and you should calmly (or even better, in writing) explain what the situation is, how long the situation has been unacceptable and why, and propose a plan for what you will do if it's not resolved (i.e. withholding rent). Stand up for yourself and your money! It's rude to be rude. It's not rude to be direct, especially in business situations. You'll feel better about the situation if you're not getting taken advantage of.
posted by phunniemee at 4:41 PM on August 24, 2008

You need to be more pushy. Do your best to force them into a concrete answer.

You: "Can you get to it this week?"
Them: "Umm, I don't think so, blah blah blah..."
You: "Next week?"
Them: "Umm, maybe..."
You: "I'd like to make specific arrangements, can you check your calendar and get back to me by the end of the day?"
Them: "Uhhh, ok, I'll try"
You: "Great. If I don't hear from you by the end of the day, I'll give you a call today or tomorrow."

==== Next day...

You: "Hey, I haven't heard from you, so I'm following up."
Them: "Ohh, I was busy."
You: "So, what does your schedule look like?"
Them: "Uhh, I don't have it with me."
You: "When can we make arrangements to look at it together?"


It shouldn't be that hard. Most people will give direct answers when they understand that the other person expects a direct answer.
posted by mpls2 at 4:42 PM on August 24, 2008 [10 favorites]

I make an appointment with the person. My old landlord would try to get out of fixing our front door (it no longer stayed locked, very dangerous!). My roomies would take his "oh, I forgot" excuses -- I told him "ok, so can you come by on Sunday at 11?". Tell the wedding photographer that you'll be at his studio on Monday at 12 to pick up your pictures. Tell your landlord that you'll be home on Wednesday night and expect him to come and fix it then. Demand what you're owed!
posted by OLechat at 4:45 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

The paper trail is a good start - emails or letters that are dated that you can refer back to make it much, much harder to claim "busy." Amiably reminding the guy the eyesore has been broken for over a year is also good. "Oh that's okay - it's just that it's been over a year and a half, and I was wondering if you could tell me when you can fit it into your schedule?"

Probably the thing to do in a business situation is make sure you tell everyone you know not to go with XYZ Wedding Photography because they take way too long to develop pictures and don't have good communications skills. You certainly don't have to apologize for something you're not sorry for (their problem, not yours).
posted by ostranenie at 4:45 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, on preview: Follow up, follow up, follow up. Don't let anyone out-dumb you.
posted by ostranenie at 4:46 PM on August 24, 2008

It's not really about giving them a response that relieves you of forgiveness, it's about giving a response that gets you what you want.

You need to not just respond, but ask more questions, make suggestions and demand more responses from them.

For example, with the landlord, give him a deadline. "It's important to me that this be fixed before X day/time because of Y. What can I do to make sure that happens? Can we set up a specific time for you to do this work now?" Perhaps you have a party that night, or out of town guests coming to stay. Whatever, doesn't matter. He's not doing it because he doesn't consider it a priority -- so make it one.

Similarly with the photographer. "I'm sorry, but don't call us we'll call you isn't an appropriate response given that you've already missed your deadline by a month. I need to know why my pictures are not yet complete, what you're doing to get them done as quickly as possible, and when I can expect to received them." Also, check your contract -- was the 8 week delivery promised in writing? It is, however, still very much the wedding busy season, which may be the issue there if the guy is overloaded with new work.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:47 PM on August 24, 2008

What to say when the lazy photog has your photos ready and apologizes: "I accept your apology but you must know that I won't be able to recommend you to my friends, family, or colleagues in the future. Thanks for your services, have good day."

You should check your province's/state's landlord and tenant act. If you're in Ontario landlords are obligated to fix what's broken, unless the tenant is responsible for the damage. Put your request in writing, so it's formal and there's a paper trail in case the landlord shirks. My current landlord was a big time shirker until I started making all my requests formally.
posted by zarah at 4:56 PM on August 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't think anyone who knows me would say I'm a pushover. They might say I'm lazy, though.

I guess truthfully, I prefer not to spend the energy required to ride someone's ass until they do something. I understand that may be a personality flaw. Also, I have a husband who is obviously involved in all this stuff, who is waaaay less forceful than me (I've never once heard him raise his voice, and I raise mine on a daily basis), and that makes me look like a giant shreiking harpie whenever I do get on peoples' cases.

The apartment situation is only an eyesore. It's not the kind of thing that I could legally withhold rent until he fixes. It is the kind of thing that, should he choose, he can never fix while I live here and be on the right side of the law and the lease. It's just that he's promised to do it, he knows he's promised, and I'm tired of hearing him say he's sorry.

Personally, if I tell someone I'll do something, I'll be doing it. I expect the same from others, I don't feel that any extra energy on my part should be expended to get them to be a decent person. Obviously, sometimes (often?) I don't get what I expect out of other people.

Am just wondering what to say to them when they say they're sorry for not doing what they promise.
posted by FortyT-wo at 5:00 PM on August 24, 2008

You leave it too opened ended as to the time. With landlord, if you must be "nice" to his face try something like Jacquilynne said above along the lines of, "I understand you've been busy. But, I do need it fixed by next Friday." I would not give him a reason. Then he can judge if it is a valid reason in his mind. Leaving it vague could mean you are having company or you will file in small claims. Also, tell him that if he is too busy, you will arrange to fix it yourself and deduct it from your rent. That usually motivates a landlord.

The photographer will never finish them without more aggressive pushing on your part. He needs an absolute deadline and motivation to meet that deadline. "I will be over your studio next Wednesday to pick up my pics. I will bring my final check at that time. My friend X is planning her wedding and I would love to be able to recommend you to her."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:03 PM on August 24, 2008

Whenever I apologize, I try to include a sentiment like, "... and how can I make this better?" I think it makes for a more sincere and meaningful apology. It's not always an appropriate addition (not everything can be made better), but it often is.

Clearly, your landlord isn't concerned with the meaning of his apology. It's saying sorry without bothering to mean it or fix it, like a little kid would do. So make it your policy to tell him that he needs to make the situation better. Next time you see him and listen to his apology, you could say something like:

"I've been waiting for well over a year for you to fix this, like you promised shortly after I moved in. What are you going to do to rectify this situation?" or a less formal, "What date will it be fixed by?"

He shouldn't be offended if you delivery this in a friendly or at least civil tone, but it does show that you are not happy with apologies and put him in the spot of giving you a better answer (which you should hold him to by following some of the other anwserer's excellent advice.)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:12 PM on August 24, 2008

(You could also get something from your landlord in writing, perhaps? Like bring him a piece of paper saying "x problem will be fixed by _____ date" and have the two of you sign it. If he's smart you shouldn't need to constantly pressure him after that.)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:14 PM on August 24, 2008

Always give people concrete deadlines. If they miss the first one, don't dwell on it but give them another concrete deadline.

When it's three months later and they still haven't done what they've promised, you can say "Hey, I asked you to have this done April 20th, and you missed it. Then I gave you an extension until May 1st, and you missed that one too. You missed my June 1st deadline as well. What's the deal?"

The reason that this often works is that it creates a sense of urgency (usually) and by backing up your requests with something measurable and numbers-oriented, it makes it seem less personal.

I like to set the intial timetimes up via a verbal conversation, following up immediately with an email re-stating the date that you expect to have the task completed.

Not all people need this level of micro-management, but some people do.
posted by Ostara at 5:16 PM on August 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I do get my pictures, I'm sure he'll tell me how sorry he is about the delay. I don't really care if he's sorry, and the delay isn't okay with me. What do I say?

To this direct question (and not the pushover question) I deal with this from time to time. There are two parts to it, I guess

1. Are you really going to make things materially difficult in some way [like threaten to not pay your photographer, for example] or do you just want to not accept their apology? Generally speaking, you need to make that decision first.

2. What I actually say to people who apologize in situations where I feel like they've seriously abused my trust and or good graces is just something like "Thanks for your apology, it really has been a large inconvenience for us and we're not at all happy" abd then let it drop and not try to negotiate the whys and the wherefores of what happaned. So, with this you can say a) I heard you b) I'm not happy c) we would probably not be a good reference for you d) I'm ending this here.

That said people promise all sorts of stuff and some people apologize more easily than others. If what you want to do is solve the problem -- and them being sorry is not the real problem -- you'll need to work on the disjoint between what people are saying and what they're doing and being direct [and yes sometimes hectoring] about the difference between those two things. I'm like you, when i say I'll do something I'll do it but I also know the world is full of people who feel differently about these sorts of things and sometimes I need to interact with them.
posted by jessamyn at 5:22 PM on August 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

I completely agree with Meerkatty. Letting someone see the whites of your eyes in response to their bullshit is often a great motivator. But on the other hand, so is saying "you know, that just isn't good enough. You promised XYZ and here it is ABC. When will this be fixed/delivered/taken care of?"
posted by jimmyhutch at 5:55 PM on August 24, 2008

Best answer: It's easy to have an automatic response to someone's apology. Mine used to be "It's okay." It was an automatic response and I'd say it even when I didn't mean it. Now, I've trained myself to say, "Thank you for apologizing." And that's often followed by "...But here's what we need to do to resolve the situation..." So in the landlord case, it's be "Thank you for your apology, but it's been a year and a half and it's still an eyesore and it needs to be fixed. I need it fixed by the end of the month; let's make an appointment for you to come by."

Thanking someone for an apology is polite, especially when the apology may be sincere, but it doesn't acknowledge that you're okay with the situation, so you never enter push-over territory. "Thank you" also seems especially appropriate in those situations like the landlord example: when someone is being embarrassingly apologetic and you'd like to say something to stop the onslaught of apologies, but you'd rather it not be "Oh, it's fine!"
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 6:05 PM on August 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Try to side-step the emotional entanglement of apology/foregiveness and just aim for getting what you want out of the business interaction. Be polite and don't yell, of course, but don't feel like you have to carefully consider their feelings or offer an overly large show of foregiveness. Likewise, don't get your feelings hurt by their lack of attentiveness. That reflects solely on them and as business people it will catch up to them sooner or later.

Whether their apology is bullshit or sincere, ultimately it's incidental to the real purpose of any business transaction and not worth much thought. Just keep on target. You're not breaking any human rules or being mean by giving a sympathetic nod but still demanding follow-through.
posted by dosterm at 6:08 PM on August 24, 2008

Pretending your landlord really plans to fix the eyesore (yeah right!), could you pleasently offer to make arragements to get it fixed and deduct the amount from your rent? This way he has to really do it himself ASAP or if he truly is that busy, he'll be very appreciative. Of course you'd need to get the arrangment in writing if you go that route.
A few of my friends have had similar compliants about photographers over promising and under delivering. I would be very frank with your photographer (in person would be best) and remind them of your contract stating 8 weeks delivery and you would love to recommend them to your friends, but will only be able to tell the better business bureau. And really complain to the BBB.
posted by MuckWeh at 6:11 PM on August 24, 2008

My response to the landlord would be "That's OK, I already had it fixed myself. I'll leave the $200 out of my next rent."

Sorry, but even if I end up paying myself, I'm not going to count on someone who has failed to do their job for over a year.

With the wedding photographer, you're truly at his mercy. I'd call* him every week, and then escalate to every day if you have to. You don't have to be rude, but you have to be consistent. You need to become his most annoying client. I know it's hard if you're a naturally nice person, but that's how you get things fixed.

* I said call. Not email. Email is super easy to ignore. Take it from me, I'm ignoring 240 messages in my inbox just to type an Ask Metafilter answer...
posted by mmoncur at 6:42 PM on August 24, 2008

For contractual agreements (like the wedding photographer), I've found that nothing lights a fire under someone's ass like a nice, formal snail mail letter with a legalese-like tone.

Dear [Stupid Photographer]:

I am writing in regards to photos taken at the FortyT-wo wedding. According to our contract and your verbal agreement, I should have recieved the photos on X day. It is now Y, four weeks *past* X day.

If I do not have my photos, per our agreement, in Z days, I will have no choice but to pursue legal action under [State] law, and file a report with the [State] Better Business Bureau.



I've done this many times, and when possible, I look up a bit of law to go along with the action. (e.g. landlord-tenant law or contract law). It's never yet failed me. One landlord had someone in my apartment to fix the problem within an hour of receiving the letter (I hand delivered it). My newspaper delivery service had a manager call me within 24 hours to remedy my complaint about our carrier. My grandpa's bank fixed his problem in a day after I wrote a letter regarding their error. So snail-mail letters are the way to go.

For non-contractual problems, I think it just depends on what you want the future of the relationship to be. If you intend to live there for a while more, you probably want to stay on speaking terms with the landlord, which means not getting into a huge argument, or being passive-aggressively bitchy. Although, you could sort of shame him into fixing the problem. Next time he apologizes about it, say something like, "Oh, it's been a year and a half--I figured out a long time ago you aren't ever going to fix the problem, so stop apologizing." When said matter of factly, or even a little jokingly, the other person can laugh it off, but they can't continue to apologize about it--they either have to suck it up and fix the problem or move on. (If they do decide to move on, at least you don't have to deal with the problem and their obnoxious know for a fact they suck.)

Good luck!
posted by batcrazy at 7:07 PM on August 24, 2008

Best answer: I know exactly the problem you describe. Someone once punched me in the stomach (hard!), and about 60 seconds later, said they were sorry. Still grimacing from the pain, I told them it was no problem at all.

The difference here is that your examples all seem to be ongoing issues, versus something that's been resolved but you're not yet ready for forgive them for. (Like being spontaneously, and forcefully, punched in the stomach.)

Especially in those cases (and cases where they're clearly not actually sorry), I find it helpful to tune out the "I'm sorry" part, and focus in on the other stuff they say. When he says, "I'm sorry I haven't fixed the eyesore, but I've been busy for the past year and a half," instead of hearing, "I'm sorry" as the key message, you hear the, "I haven't fixed the eyesore. I've been busy for the past year and a half." And suddenly, instead of being an apology you're awkwardly obliged to accept, it's more of him pathetically reminding you of an ongoing 'feud.'

I find that changing how I 'view' the apology like this makes it easier for me to reply in a more fitting manner. Perhaps something like, "I can appreciate that you must be a really busy person... But this is really getting out of hand. It's been over a year. Do you think you can start on it this week?"

I'm no Emily Post, so that may not be the 'perfect' response, but two things to note about it... The first is that it's simultaneously assertive and polite. Failing to be assertive has obvious negative consequences, but it's also easy to go too far and be rude. The problem with that is that it's more likely to turn into an argument, or for him to get angry and deliberately postpone the work to spite you. Being angry may be a helpful tactic sometimes, but it's definitely not one to pull out too soon. The second thing to note is that, at the end of the statement, you try to get him to commit to something. When it's done to me, I find that it helps to 'ground' my mental image of getting it done: instead of thinking, "I'm going to fix the eyesore! Maybe I'll do it next week... Or the week after that... Or in the spring...," I think, "I guess I have time on Wednesday... I'll head to the store tomorrow morning and pick up the supplies I'll need." The other thing is that, by getting him to commit to something, it ups the ante. He can keep telling you he's going to get around to it, but now there's a deadline. Will he get it done this week, or is he going to break his promise?

Are you the one who posted a few weeks ago about your wedding photos, where everyone told you that it was just barely past the deadline and it was not big deal? It sure sounds like it's time to start upping the pressure on them!
posted by fogster at 7:34 PM on August 24, 2008

Response by poster: Nah, that wasn't me fogster... I should look that one up though!
posted by FortyT-wo at 7:58 PM on August 24, 2008

I understand the laziness issue. Your question prompted me to call my rental agent, who I bug occasionally, but obviously not enough to get anything done. This means that I take partial responsibilty for the length of time it takes for something to get done, even though it's so not my job.

For the landlord, or anyone apologising with a poxy excuse for something with no fixed deadline, I say something like "I understand that (insert poxy excuse here), but (I really need this done)".

For the photographer, or someone who should know better and is seriously pissing me off, then the standard answer my mother taught me by example is any variation on "well that's not going to help me, is it!". Vary the tone to indicate level of annoyance. (and yeah, you should be calling this idiot. Often. People who ignore deadlines also ignore emails)
posted by kjs4 at 8:15 PM on August 24, 2008

For instances where someone is late or delaying, just make up some reason out of your control why it's becoming increasingly urgent that you need it done.

"Eyesore in your apartment":
- You belong to a book club that meets at people's places and you don't want them to see it. You've already skipped a couple of your "turns" and questions are starting to be asked
- Your husband is threatening to fix it, but he's a hopeless handyman and will make it worse.

"Late Photographs"
- Your mother is soon to travel to some family that didn't make it to the wedding and she wants to take the photos
- You've got a friend who's really interested in someone they met at the wedding, but can't remember who. Can you have the photos so you can help them?

For any similar situation, just think of anything that might be dependent on the thing that's late, while still being plausible in your specific situation.
posted by krisjohn at 8:20 PM on August 24, 2008

Whenever I get this fake apology nonesense, I always respond that "I'll feel better when we have this resolved." It doesn't imply forgiveness. It does indicate that I'm still looking for the person to complete the job.
posted by 26.2 at 8:35 PM on August 24, 2008

Personally, if I tell someone I'll do something, I'll be doing it. I expect the same from others, I don't feel that any extra energy on my part should be expended to get them to be a decent person. Obviously, sometimes (often?) I don't get what I expect out of other people.

Am just wondering what to say to them when they say they're sorry for not doing what they promise.

When I'm in these situations, part of the problem is that my brain is trying to untangle practical matters, social matters and self-esteem matters all at the same time. These things are all important, but it's impossible to deal with them simultaneously. I urge you to sit down and think about your goal or goals.

Do you want some physical thing to change? As in, you want the eyesore gone (you don't really care how it gets gone, as long as it's gone). Do you want your landlord to accept blame in some sort of better way ("I apologize for apologizing without actually doing anything")? Do you want to come across as a nice person? Do you want to be less of a push over? Do you want to vent your frustrations?

One worthwhile reason to separate these issues is that it may be impossible to get all the things you want. By looking at each issue separately, you might be able to make a choice like, "Well, I'd like to be thought of as a nice person, but getting rid of he eyesore is more important." Or "You know, at this point, I don't even care about the eyesore! Heck, I'll fix it myself or pay to have it fixed. I just want to give the bastard a piece of my mind."

It may even be possible to have all your cakes and eat them, too. But you first need to define the cakes and check out the recipes. For instance, you can acknowledge the apology and THEN push for more action. Quoting Uncle Glendinning, above: "Thank you for apologizing ...But here's what we need to do to resolve the situation..."
posted by grumblebee at 8:44 PM on August 24, 2008

I don't think anyone who knows me would say I'm a pushover.

Let's ask your landlord...

I prefer not to spend the energy required to ride someone's ass until they do something.

In the examples you provide there is functionally no difference between being a pushover, and being unwilling to follow through with someone who owes you a service or an explanation. Whether you are a pushover or not is beyond the question, what you should address is whatever character trait you're displaying which causes people to think that they can get away with a glib apology and not face any consequences.
posted by wfrgms at 10:46 PM on August 24, 2008

"I appreciate that you're sorry. Thanks. Let's set a time when it's going to be done, period - since we both recognize this has gone on too long."
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:29 PM on August 24, 2008

Landlord - let's say it would cost $150 to fix. Call Landlord: "Hi, I got a quote of 150 to fix that eyesore. I can schedule it this week, and deduct from my rent. Or you could get here before that." Landlord might agree to deduction, or fix problem. Either way, task is done. You win.

Photographer - Sorry I didn't get that work done, mumble, busy, mumble. You: I'm sure you had an excellent reason. or I assumed there was some compelling reason. It lets the person know that you noticed, and that only a crisis would excuse, and that you aren't going to be a jerk or a pushover about it. If it's really not okay, you call and say "I'm so excited to see the pictures. Can I pick them up Tuesday?"

I think it helps to be cheerful and avoid the angry, confrontational stance that may be what you avoid. me, too. So try to find a positive way to frame the request.
posted by theora55 at 4:21 AM on August 25, 2008

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