For decades I have been advocating professionals to stop saying “I’m sorry” and replace it with “I apologize.” This small change can make a big difference because:
- We often say “I’m sorry” out of habit and wind up apologizing for things for which we have no business apologizing.
- When we say “I’m sorry” all the time it loses it’s impact and we aren’t taken as seriously.
- Overuse of “I’m sorry” can make us look weak or less than confident.
I’ve been speaking about this in my communication workshops, keynote speeches, and writing about it since the beginning of my career. So, imagine my surprise when I recently found myself repeatedly saying “I’m sorry” despite knowing better.
I was working out with my new personal trainer. She is learning how to modify a workout to accommodate my shoulder injuries and I am trying to discover where my physical limitations are due to the injuries. We often try exercises that I am physically unable to do due to (extreme) pain in my shoulders. A few days ago I found myself saying “I’m sorry” multiple times after attempting and failing one exercise modification after another. I was frustrated. I was embarrassed. I was in pain. And, I was grateful to her for her patience and willingness to keep looking for modifications.
However, instead of expressing my gratitude, I was saying, “I’m sorry. I can’t do that one either.” At one point, she corrected me and said, “Stop saying you’re sorry – we will figure it out.” Wow. Talk about a learning moment for me. I knew better and I was saying “I’m sorry” anyway! I’ve been thinking about that interaction for the past few days and I’ve come to realize that I ought to have been saying something like:
- I can’t do that one. It hurts. Thanks for being patient with me.
- That one hurts, too. I appreciate your flexibility in trying other options.
- I’m grateful you are willing to keep finding new options.
- Thank you for your support while I am struggling.
Any of those responses would have not only been more accurate expressions of my true inner state – I genuinely am grateful – they would also have been a significant deposit in her emotional bank account. Expressions of gratitude would have been a positive expression as opposed to the negative “I’m sorry.”When can you offer gratitude instead of apologies? Perhaps the next time someone helps you with a project you can thank them instead of apologizing for taking their time? Or, maybe the next time someone stays late at your request, you can thank them instead of apologizing for keeping them late?
What opportunities do you see to express gratitude instead of an apology?
Pamela Jett is a communication skills and leadership expert who knows that words matter! In her keynote presentations, workshops, books and online learning programs, she moves beyond communication theory into practical strategies that can be implemented immediately to create the kind of leadership, teamwork, and employee engagement results her clients want.