I'm sorry you feel that way

Published April 11, 2020

The daily COVID-19 government briefing caught my eye today. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was asked if the government would apologise over the now well-publicised shortcomings over personal protective gear (PPE) for healthcare workers.

Her response was "sorry if people feel there have been failings", i.e. the classic non-apology where somebody "apologises" for somebody else's feelings rather than their own responsibility in the events that led to those feelings. It implies the problem is the feelings, not the reality. In most cases, it's a childish and tone-deaf phrase which is likely to be intensely irritating to the recipient.

It caught my attention because Priti Patel was recently embroiled in a controversy concerning her role in workplace bullying, which led to Sir Philip Rutnam's resignation (which he posits constitutes constructive dismissal).

I have my own experience with workplace bullying, which led to my resignation from my previous employment, and I was struck by the similarity with my own experience of Priti Patel offering the non-apology. The lady who bullied me gave me a similar "sorry you feel that way" apology while denying any responsibility for her actions whatsoever.

In my case I didn't let it slide and I explained that she could not apologise for my feelings. It didn't get me anywhere - she felt I was being unreasonable in my "oversensitive" analysis of her words. In her view, even her inability to apologise like an adult was my fault!

In Priti Patel's case, I suppose it just made me smile that another woman old enough to know better and finding herself on the wrong side of a bullying scandal would pull out the classic non-apology - "I'm sorry you feel that way".

Filed under: politics, workplace bullying