when it isn’t okay

I have a dilemma and I’m hoping that you, my wonderful blog readers, can help me out.

Typically when someone says “I’m sorry”, the automatic response is “That’s ok!”.  Try think back: when someone bumps in to you at the store or you have a long wait at a restaurant and they say, “Oh I’m so sorry”, we (or at least I do) say, “Oh that’s ok!” without even thinking about it.  It’s just a knee-jerk response.

But what about when it ISN’T ok?  Like when a waiter apologizes for not refilling your drink but you’ve watched him as he’s been sitting at the table behind you and flirting with the girls there for a long time instead of doing his job (i.e. getting your drink)?  Or when the person who cuts fabric at Walmart is off talking to her friends in another department and you have to wait for 15 minutes until the people from the automotive department finally get her to notice you?

Obviously if someone is apologizing for bumping in to you or for something they have no control over (i.e. the long wait at a restaurant) but that they know was inconvenient, then I want to acknowledge their apology and let them know that it is fine.  But when people fail to do their job and offer a quick “I’m sorry”, what is the correct response?

Because I’m so pre-programmed to do so, I usually just say “That’s ok”.  But recently I’ve decided I’m tired of telling people that it’s ok when it actually isn’t.  I don’t want to be rude or a jerk, but I want them to know that their actions were not acceptable?  I’m not sure what to say so the last few times this has happened and they’ve said “I’m sorry”, I haven’t said anything at all.  I’m not telling them it’s ok, but I can’t figure out what else to say to them.  It makes for an uncomfortable silence, though.

“I forgive you” is much to pretentious.

“Thank you” seems a little awkward.

“Thank you for apologizing” might work.  Acknowledging their apology but not letting them off the hook, perhaps?

I don’t know, maybe I’m just over thinking things, but this has happened several times recently and I just don’t feel like I have a good response.

(Let me clarify that I’m not talking about someone who comes to you and sincerely apologizes for a wrong that has been done and asks for forgiveness, I’m talking about those quick interactions you have at work or out in public with strangers)

So your turn to help me out:

Do you do the automatic “It’s ok” response, too, or is that just me?

What would be an appropriate, kind, Christian response to the generic “I’m sorry”?



  1. Stephanie says:

    I have thought about this very same thing, and wondered how to handle it as well. I am anxious to read what other people have to say about this.

  2. This may not help you any but I usually, in a nice way, let them know that I dont find it acceptable. Such as, the waitor example, if they say “Oh, I’m sorry” I usually respond “Well I was beginning to wondering if I needed to get up and fix my own drink” followed with a slight smile. I say it in a nice tone so as for them to not think I’m being rude. Or the Walmart thing, I’d probably say “Well if its your break time they should probably help you out by placing someone else in your position” People usually don’t respond back but you can tell it makes them think. Maybe its not the right thing to do, I’m anxious as well to see what others say cause I’ve never really thought about it before, but of course now I will! lol.

  3. John Ross says:

    I usually end up responding “That’s fine” in a rather unenthusiastic manner. It tends acknowledge the apology as a formality without implying that it was not a problem to begin with.

    Frankly, I rarely get worked up about people doing something that requires an apology from them. I guess I’ve been fortunate that it’s usually a minor thing. I can only recall one instance where I was treated very poorly by a co-worker (where I and other coworkers where stunned, looking at each other and going”What was that?”). While his behavior was unprofessional and upsetting to myself and other coworkers present, and I felt pretty indignant the rest of the evening, he came back the next day and gave me as sincere an apology as I would expect. My response to him was that I appreciated the apology and that it was “water under the bridge,” so to speak. He knew it wasn’t acceptable. So did everyone else in our department for that matter. I like to think that we quickly moved on from that and I never gave it much thought thereafter.

    That said, it was a good learning experience for me. I had to consider what cause him to say that. It amounted to him being stressed and unhappy about circumstances outside of our control, some mistakes he had made earlier in the day, incorrectly perceiving that I was talking poorly about him behind his back regarding that matter and then snapping. So I consider: Why did he believe that I was doing that and what could I have done differently to keep him from thinking that? What could he have done better to manner the stress of that situation?

    However, the most important thing I learned from that experience as that one mistake – one violent outburst – can have serious consequences with your relationships to others that can take a very long time to rectify. I was and I am appreciative of his apology and I, of course, forgive it. I just hope that I responded in the best manner.

  4. Lea Keith says:

    I usually respond with “that’s fine,” and then how I might relate to the situation. I know I have those days when I am that person, and it helps me when someone smiles, laughs, and reassures me I am not the only one who messes up.

  5. I always reply, “I accept your apology”, and then do just that, accept it and move on. Many years ago, our ladies Bible class had this discussion and the general consensus was that an apology unrelated to personal matters is best handled with an impersonal but polite response. This response says, “I recognize that you were in error and I forgive you.”

    As a side note: this is the response I usually give to my students and my own children when they apologize for something. Telling them that it’s okay removes their responsibility for their actions.

    • I really like this response, Penny! I agree with what your Bible class came up with in that apologies unrelated to personal matters deserve impersonal responses. I think that’s where I was getting hung up…”I forgive you”, while probably a correct response, is just too much for this kind of casual, quick interaction. I like “I accept your apology” much better. Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. I’m extremely outspoken but mindful that I have to keep control of my tongue so that I don’t end up needing to apologize. That said, I do say something to remind them that they’re there to do a job like “Thanks for apologizing. I appreciate you paying attention to your job.” Some may say that’s too harsh, but I think it’s important that people learn that it isn’t okay to be rude to the people who are, in essence, paying your salary. Well, it isn’t okay to be rude to anyone, but I can’t just say “Okay.”

    • I love this response, Rachel! Appropriate without letting them off the hook with an “okay”. I don’t think that’s harsh at all as long as you’re careful to not be sarcastic (I can totally see myself saying that with a hint of sarcasm in the heat of the moment…something of which I need to be very mindful). I’m going to use this one next time!

      • I do keep the sarcasm to a minimum. I have to be careful of that as well, but so far, it’s been just enough to make people realize that what they were doing was unacceptable. No one has responded negatively to my comment yet, and unfortunately, I’ve had to use it more times than I’ve liked at some of the discount stores here.

  7. Maybe ask them what are they sorry for? that will throw them off, then say are you sorry for having me wait 15 min? are you sorry that instead of getting my drink you were flirting? Then get the manager to so you are compensated for you time and energy and being a customer in their establishment.

  8. Monique – I like that! I will remember that.

    If I am in a hurry, I do the bare minimum when shopping, and only tackle things – like fabric cutting – when I have more time. Sadly, I do this because of poor customer service. That doesn’t always happen, but I try. I also try to only shop at stores that actually help customers. I am willing to pay a little more because they invest in me as a customer.

    I do this because I know I have a temper when I’m in a hurry and I just don’t want to go there. When I’m not in a hurry, it doesn’t bother me quite so much. I don’t know that I would stand there for 15 minutes waiting for someone to acknowledge me, but I would wait a bit.

  9. I can’t imagine saying “I appreciate your paying attention to your job” without it coming off a little (or a lot) snarky. I mean, if they’re gallavanting around the store instead of manning their post or flirting instead of checking on their customers, they’re NOT paying attention to their job.

    I just say, “I appreciate your apology.”

    This is actually what I say in personal situations, too, if I’m not quite ready to forgive. I know I’m supposed to forgive freely, but it’s not always easy. Sometimes I need to work through my feelings before I can really and truly forgive, and I don’t want to say “I forgive you,” if it’s not true. Saying “I appreciate your apology” keeps me from feeling dishonest or like I’m minimizing my feelings.

    I sometimes use “Thank you for apologizing,” too.

You've heard what I have to say...now I want to hear your thoughts!