Imagine with me for a moment that your doorbell rings.
You glance through the peephole and see a friendly face holding a large cardboard rectangle and another person standing a few feet behind with a sturdy black video camera hoisted on his shoulder. You don’t know exactly what’s going on, but you’re starting to get an idea, and it’s a very pleasant idea.
As you open the door the friendly face looks you right in the eye, and with a beaming smile flips the cardboard rectangle around to reveal a giant check. Your name is printed clearly on the top line, and the number you see makes your jaw drop.
“Congratulations!” you hear, and your vision starts to blur. Then through the happy haze you see the friendly smile slowly drop, and the tone changes.
“Please forgive us for using black ink instead of blue on your check, we ran out of time, you know how it goes. The amount was supposed to be $700 more, but last month one of the boss’s kids won some regional tournament and we had to pay to get him to the finals. Sorry we don’t have our full media crew here for you either, just Joe. But yeah, here you go. Again, so sorry it’s not more.”
Sounds crazy right? What kind of person would apologize for giving?
Hospitality is giving
We don’t write big checks to every person we meet, but every day we have opportunities to give people something very valuable. We can offer them something to look forward to, something that makes their day better and brings them joy. Every time we open our home, we are giving. Every time we engage in conversation, we are giving. Every time we show up, bring over, cover for, share with…we are giving.
When you apologize for any part of your giving, you are actually taking away from your guests something very special. You are taking away their joy in the moment of receiving. You are taking the focus off of them and your pleasure in serving them, and turning everyone’s attention to something that you find inadequate, faulty, or deficient.
Deficiencies must be addressed, and so the polite guest is now put in the position of having to console, comfort, and reassure us that we are worthy of their presence, our stuff is nice, we look fine without makeup, and our homes are suitable spaces for time together. Only then can we move on and start enjoying each other’s company. And there’s more.
When we apologize, we are also subtly communicating that we are uncomfortable, and that it’s their fault. After all, if they weren’t there we wouldn’t feel the need to apologize.
We do not want to put a guest in that position!
Fortunately for us, we don’t have to. We can beat the temptation to apologize for anything out of place, still be honest, and make our guests feel comfortable and welcome with a few little shifts in our thinking and habits.
Before we can make our guests feel comfortable, we have to be comfortable ourselves, so we’ll start there. Let’s talk about why we feel the need to apologize in the first place, and then move on to the things we can say and do to take control of even the messiest situation and put the people around us at ease.
Mindset: I am always ready to give. The most important thing to me is that the people I’m with feel special and cared for. How can I serve them right now, where I am and with what I have? If there is a problem, I am part of the solution.
Space: Create a physical space where you can be comfortable together. Offer food or a drink. Clear off a sofa or pull up a chair or spread out a blanket on the grass.
Habits: Be comfortable in your own skin. Value your awesome self and what you have to give, and offer it with a smile. Instead of apologizing for a presumed deficiency in your hospitality (self-focused), intentionally communicate that your guest’s comfort is important to you, and ask what would make them more comfortable. Take immediate action to meet their needs.
Why do we apologize when we’ve done nothing wrong?
It’s worth taking the time to consider why we apologize, because our words and actions are often directly connected to some deeply-held belief about ourselves or our guests. The act of apologizing is a significant act, and it is very important for maintaining healthy relationships when we have done something wrong. But if we apologize when we haven’t done anything wrong, what’s really going on there?
I believe most people apologize for themselves or their stuff for one of three reasons:
- They are embarrassed about something.
- They believe their guests are miserably inconvenienced in some way.
- Apologizing is a habit, and they don’t really think about it.
I’ll address each of these and would love to hear more of your thoughts about them too.
Why do you feel embarrassed?
If you are embarrassed about some aspect of yourself or your stuff, I encourage you to ask yourself why – so you can fix it. Who set the Standard in that area that you feel you haven’t met? Is it a fair standard? Is it realistic? Does that Standard apply to a person with your personality, values, interests, resources, and lifestyle? Answering some of these questions might give you some clarity on what’s holding you back from being comfortable with yourself and your stuff. Now you have a choice.
You might find that a Standard in some area of your life is important enough that you are willing to make some changes. Put that thing on the calendar. Take a class. Make it a priority. Whatever you decide, it really is your choice to make a change or let it go, so you don’t have to feel embarrassed anymore.
I want you to be comfortable with yourself. You are allowed to be happy – nay, ecstatic! – with the house you live in, the person you married, the texture of your hair, your income, your quirky hobbies, the size of your jeans and the food in your fridge. It’s your life! It’s good stuff!
You’re good stuff.
If someone suggests otherwise, they just opened a door for you to educate them on good living.
In a world of touched-up photos and styled magazines and people with different amounts of time and money, the thief named Comparison is quick to taunt. He is an ugly, slimy, deceitful beast dressed in sparkles and a master of smoke and mirrors…and he’s trying to sell you something. He’s also short-sighted, because there is no such thing as a fair comparison. If you compare one area of your life to someone else’s, the only fair thing to do is to compare every area of your life to that same person. Try it sometime. When you go down that road you will find you don’t want to trade lives with anyone.
So I want you to look that ugly, slimy, deceitful beast in the face and reclaim your right to have what you like, and joyfully give what you have, without an ounce of embarrassment. Your guests will feel the difference.
When you show hospitality, you are not trying to impress. You are working to bless. And when you give freely and joyfully, something amazing happens. People rich and poor, old and young, are delighted to receive from you. Let other people give hospitality their way. You are free to give joyfully your way.
Fear of inconveniencing a guest
Since one of the main objectives of hospitality is to make guests comfortable, it can be a huge temptation to apologize when we know some aspect of our home or lifestyle is a little awkward. We hate to tell people to make themselves at home, but please sit outside for the next 30 minutes while the baby finishes his nap. Maybe your bathroom door doesn’t close all the way unless you jiggle it. Maybe it’s a little complicated for people to park near your apartment.
I promise that people know enough about life to let a lot of little things go, just like you do. They probably have oddities in their own home too. They probably didn’t notice the thing you were fretting about until you mentioned it.
So don’t mention it.
If the item of inconvenience becomes a real issue, you all can still win. Your guests have an opportunity to be gracious and go with it, and you have an opportunity to be the hero and save them from discomfort. You have chairs ready on the back porch, you can personally direct them where to park (what wonderful service!), and you know how to jiggle that charming door. (Yes, I do.)
The habit of apologizing
There are many great little phrases about perfection and human lack thereof. They are all true, and if perfection is truly The Standard, we should all be in the habit of constantly apologizing, because none of us will meet it. Ever.
Fortunately we are free to talk about other things, because some subjective standard of perfection in the physical world is not our standard. Ever. Our standard is caring for people with our whole heart.
So if you find yourself habitually saying, “Welcome, please excuse the mess,” I encourage you to pause next time and just say, “Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here! Come sit with me.”
It can be your new habit.
Say this instead
Habits are powerful, so I want to give you a few ideas of phrases you can use in place of an uncomfortable apology. I’d love for you to come up with more ideas in your own words! (And please share them in the comments!) You might also want to take a moment to review The Warm Welcome post for ideas about great ways to greet people.
Try these to put people at ease:
NO: “Oh hey! Yeah, please ignore the mess.”
YES: “What a nice surprise! Please come in, I’m folding laundry and the kids are building forts in the living room. There’s a clear spot for us in the kitchen! What can I get you to drink?”
NO: “If I’d known this place was so fancy I wouldn’t have worn this.”
YES: “This place is gorgeous! Reminds me of a painting I saw in a book once. Do you think that’s Italian marble?”
NO: “Sorry I don’t have any food, all I have is eggnog and raspberries.”
YES: “I have eggnog and raspberries today! Are you interested?”
NO: “Wow, those tickets are really expensive. I’m sorry we can’t afford to join you.”
YES: “We’ll pass this time, but you guys go ahead and enjoy it!”
NO: “Um, yeah, sorry I’m so bad at this. You know me, I’m awkward.”
YES: “I’m still trying to learn this, but I’m finding it really hard – would you help me?”
NO: “Sorry it’s not much.”
YES: “We wanted you to know we were thinking of you, so we got you a little something special.”
There is always a way to communicate care without creating an awkward situation. The rule is always to focus on blessing others, and avoid drawing attention to anything that makes you or them feel bad.
When you are comfortable, they are comfortable.
Any time you are interacting with people in your own home, on the phone, at work or on the street, you have the power to set the mood of the interaction by how you present yourself and how you show care for them. You have the power to make other people comfortable simply by letting yourself be at ease.
Laugh at some silly inconvenience so they can laugh too. Offer a story because you have nothing to hide. Ask their advice because you’re comfortable showing you don’t know everything, and you value their opinion. Be comfortable in a mess because it’s simply the state of things at that moment and not nearly as important as your wonderful guest. No need to apologize for anything.
You’re together, so all is as it should be.
When to apologize
Always apologize quickly and sincerely when you have truly wronged or hurt someone. Affirm you were wrong or careless, tell them you’re sorry, and don’t make excuses. Do everything in your power to make it right. Fix what is broken, pay for the damage, and ask what else you can do to restore the relationship and rebuild trust. A sincere apology is so powerful it can heal even deep hurts and rid a person of old bitterness. Do it.
But always resist the urge to apologize for giving. You are a wonderful, unique, amazing human being with life to share. Your home and possessions are extensions of yourself, and if you are offering any part of yourself as a gift to others, there is only one thing you need to communicate:
“You are special, and I did this all for you.”
Did this article spark any new ideas for you? Please leave a comment with your thoughts! You’re also welcome to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.