I was walking down the hall last week when I passed by another professor leaning out his classroom door as a student asked him to sign a piece of paper. The student seemed to be explaining why he couldn’t catch the professor any other time and knowing it was the last day to add classes, I kind of thought it was ballsy but wise on the part of the student to get what he needed. The student ended with an apology to the professor for interrupting his class. The professor retorted shortly with one word.
It wasn’t just “yeah,” even. It was yeah. More like a “eh” than a full “yeah,” to be sure. I felt awkward just having glimpsed at the situation and kept walking. Something bothered me but I wasn’t quite sure what.
It took a few days for me to figure it out, though. I hate it that there isn’t a really good short response to apologies. While I don’t think the professor meant to be the rude one in that equation, I honestly walked away from it with such a bad taste in my mouth because he was so short. But yet, when people apologize to me…sometimes for things that need massive apologies…you know how I respond?
Okay? Okay? Why in the hell do I say that? Sometimes it is okay. If I’m not in a hurry and you cut in front of me, it’s okay. If you took the last cookie and I have to wait for another, it’s okay. But start getting beyond mere courtesies, and saying “it’s okay” can get dangerous. And that’s when it hit me…the professor was probably burned by students in the past.
Some people will tell you to set the tone of the class right from the beginning–draw a hard line, take no prisoners kind of stuff. And then others will caution you to be your authentic self. I don’t have a problem with the latter. I’m self deprecating. I put on the right amount of pizzaz most days. (Yes, I hear “give them the ol’ razzle dazzle” from time to time.) But on the whole, I let a lot of people walk all over me and so setting the tone is where I need to focus. It’s not just in the classroom. It’s a running theme throughout my life. They apologize and I follow up by telling them, essentially, that their apology wasn’t even necessary.
I get that I’m doing it for brevity and trying to be kind and polite…but what is that doing in the scheme of things for me? When people apologize, I say that their transgressions were acceptable. Well, hot damn if I don’t make that process repeat itself all on my own.
So this weekend, when The Mister overslept and I had to get the girls ready to leave on my own and he apologized in the car, I changed my response.
And you know what? I felt much better. I didn’t feel like I was blowing off the transgression, but I didn’t feel like I was being insufferable like the professor in the hallway. Acknowledge the thing and move on. How hard is that?
Apparently, for me, it was a week long internal monologue and blog post worth of self-reflection kind of hard. Go figure. But it was a small step toward being less agreeable to those who cross the line with me. It was easy to throw it out with The Mister. Let’s see if I can handle it when I meet with the general public.
Is it just me or is it hard to accept apologies politely but firmly?