I love reading the comments on this blog. We have such an insightful, supportive, curious, and witty online community! And sometimes someone posts an idea or question that makes me think, “Hmm. That would make an excellent blog post.”
That happened last week in the comment section to the Losing with Class article. Karla asked what you can do when you have a partner who apologizes every time she misses a shot. Here, lightly edited, was my response:
This is such a tough one. I’ve played with people like that–so self-abasing and apologetic–and it DOES get uncomfortable.
One thing that has NOT helped for me is saying, “Gosh, don’t apologize. We all make mistakes. I just screwed up my return on that last point!” The person who’s apologizing usually feels like the weak link in the foursome. Rightly or wrongly, she considers the other players above her level and feels very self-conscious. Through this lens, she sees her own mistakes as glaring evidence of why she doesn’t belong on the court with the other three, whereas her partner’s flubbed return is only a meaningless unforced error.
A number of years ago, I knew a woman–the late, great Sue Sargent–who had an effective approach to overapologetic partners. She’d say, “No sorries unless we see blood.” She’d repeat this line, with the same equanimity and intonation, after every apology. After hearing it a few times, you stopped apologizing because you felt stupid making her parrot the same phrase at you over and over.
Funny enough, once you stopped apologizing, you started to play better! I guess it’s not surprising, since you could then focus all your mental energy on the ball and not on whether your partner is mad at you.
So I guess that’s two possible approaches. You could try repeating that phrase, or something similar, every time and hope your partner gets as tired of hearing it as you are of hearing the apologies.
Or, you could start a conversation about how apologizing might be counterproductive. You could say, “You know what I discovered a couple of years ago? It’s so funny, but I used to apologize to my partner, and it actually made me play worse! I was so preoccupied with what my partner must be thinking about me that I wasn’t totally focused on the ball. So when I stopped apologizing, I played better…and had fewer things to apologize for! Isn’t that funny? HAHAHA” (A little humor always helps, too.)
These two ideas are okay, but I think this is a great topic for some community brainstorming. We’ve all been in this situation. What would YOU do?
[**My apologies (haha) to anyone named Sally. The phrase “Debbie Downer” always ruffles my own feathers, yet I couldn’t resist using the same kind of name play in the title. I’m sure the Sallies out there never have anything to apologize for, anyway!]