Empathy, Apology and Sorry

Physician talking to patient in bed I just came across a really interesting article talking about empathy vs. apology and the use of the word “sorry” as it relates to both. The article was posted on a website called, Sorry Works!. I had never really thought about how the word “sorry” could be used in two different ways: 1) to express empathy and 2) to apologize.

The author argues that health care providers need to re-learn to use this word. Many health care providers (and institutions?) feel that “sorry” always means an admission of guilt or that an error was made. But, sorry doesn’t always have to mean apology.

In the following sentence, “sorry” can be used to express empathy:
“I’m sorry you fell and broke your hip.”
Expressing empathy, according to the author, is always appropriate. The author regards this as, “Sorry this happened.”

In this sentence, “sorry” can be used to express an apology:
“I’m sorry you fell and broke your hip because I left the bed rail down.”
This use of the word “sorry” here is to express an apology due to an error. The author regards this as, “Sorry we made this mistake.” The author says this use of the word sorry is appropriate after an investigation finding that an error was made.

This is a nice distinction. Should you like more information on this topic, or even a presentation at your institution, you can contact Sorry Works!.

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