‘Excuse me’ rather than ‘Sorry’ – Doing the Right Thing at the Right Time

We all know that ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are two magic words that set people at ease, and make life easier for everyone. Whatever you may believe about these words, saying the right thing at the right time can open doors and resolve major problems. The African culture places huge importance on words; it is said that “the right words can bring out kolanuts from a friends pocket.”

Just like the two magic words above, ‘excuse me’ is a short key phrase that can also differentiate a person. An appropriate use will show the user is courteous and well mannered. There are occasions where the right display of manners is to say to someone ‘excuse me’ rather than having to apologise profusely after an irrational or thoughtless behaviour.

Unfortunately, this latter situation is what appears to be common. An example is a case where there is a small crowd in a banking hall or at a supermarket checkout. Here comes Mr Olu whose main pre-occupation is how to cash his cheque or pay for his goods. He looks around and realises that he needs to navigate his way through the crowd to the extreme right to see Miss Emeka, the Customer Services Supervisor/Cashier. Mr Olu then begins to push his way through the crowd until he gets to the Customer Service desk. As his body brushes against other people, they start to complain about being pushed. Eventually everyone was complaining about his behaviour and raining abuse on this ‘rude’ man. Mr Olu is embarrassed and he is forced to say sorry as all eyes are fixed on him.

The lesson here is that Mr Olu did not need to go through the harsh and embarrassing experience only to start apologising. He needed to simply say ‘excuse me’ in order for the people to move out of his way. This is certainly a more civilised and polite way to get through a crowd than pushing people out of the way.

A parallel can be drawn with the life lesson of being proactive. It is always better to confront and handle the matters of daily living rather than avoiding them and pretending they would go away. So many people ignore serious issues that require urgent attention, hoping that by doing so they can escape the difficult reality of the situation. In the event that this backfires, they are quick to offer an apology to their spouse or neighbour or whoever was wronged. What happens in such cases is that the matter becomes worse, and what was thought to be slightly difficult turns into chaos and sometimes calamity. At this point ‘sorry’ does nothing to repair the damage that has been done.

It is always better to have the mindset of taking responsibility for life issues rather than saying a meaningless sorry after the damage has been done. An example is Mr Yusuf, a client who has scheduled a meeting with Mr Bakare, a solicitor. Having realised he could no longer make it to the meeting at the arranged time, he did nothing, and procrastinated on calling Mr Bakare to either cancel or reschedule the meeting. Mr Bakare is completely unaware that Mr Yusuf would not be available and he turned up as planned.

After waiting for 45 minutes, Mr Bakare placed a call to find out Mr Yusuf’s whereabout, only for him to start apologising that he could no longer make the meeting. “Sorry, I’m so sorry,” he says. Sorry in this case clearly means nothing as the appropriate path Mr Yusuf should have taken would be to inform Mr Bakare once he realised he could no longer make the meeting. At the very least a text message to alert Mr Bakare would have sufficed.

Somehow many people choose the ‘apologies’ or ‘sorry’ path rather that the ‘excuse me’ path. In cases where money is involved, this is even worse as debtors rarely make the move to reassure the lender when they can not meet a commitment to pay their loan. It is always better – though not an easy task – to tell your lender “I am unable to pay as I promised, please give me two more weeks.” Rather than do this, they avoid their creditors or disappear and turn a salvageable issue to a friendship-destroying calamity.

A few points to consider are below:

  • Saying ‘excuse me’ is always better than apologising later.
  • In the same vein, doing the right thing at the right time is always better than apologising later.
  • Carefully and sensibly deal with issues before they become a disaster. He who fights and runs away, as they say, will live to fight another day.

· The key is to be proactive, think ahead and choose to do the right thing always.

· Do not use sorry as a means of getting away from facing the consequences of your actions.

· Let your sorry be when you truly regret something not as an afterthought.

· Put yourself in the position of the other person and decide how you would rather a situation be played out.

We all benefit when we do things right!