Most of us make excessive use of the word “sorry” on the daily–on average, we’ll say it about a quarter of a million times in our lives. We’re sorry for sneezing; we’re sorry for standing in your way; we’re really sorry for having an opinion, especially a dissenting one. We’ve diluted the meaning of the word: if we’re sorry about everything, are we really sorry for anything?
As if insincerity isn’t enough, people also perceive apologizers as unqualified and insecure, which tends to be an accurate assessment. In fact, choosing not to express remorse can boost your confidence and feelings of self-efficacy.
There’s definitely no logic to human behavior. Why would we so persistently use a word with such a negative impact on us and the people we interact with? More importantly, what can we start subbing in?
It can be far easier to intend to say no than to actually follow through, but Warren Buffet pointed out that “very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” Time is the ultimate finite resource. There is nothing wrong with–and actually something quite respectable about–being intentional with your resources. The more selective you are in what you commit to, the less likely you are to execute in half measures and end up feeling remorseful.
Say thank you.
If the last thing a customer (internal or external) hears from you after a disappointing experience is “sorry,” the entire interaction is punctuated by regret. Trading out things like “Sorry it took so long” for “Thanks for your patience” legitimately diverts the customer’s attention away from your shortcomings and towards their own strengths. “Thank you” is often a more appropriate choice for minor or unintentional infractions anyway, and the more we can do to cultivate gratitude, the better.
Just say literally anything other than “I’m sorry.”
One study of service failure recovery found that, beyond the first seven seconds of a conversation, every additional apology made the customer more irate. All they really wanted to hear were potential solutions to their problem. Even the end result was less significant than the brainstorming process, because that’s what demonstrated a genuine investment in the customer’s satisfaction, and a good faith effort to do the right thing.
In general, we can all be more mindful of the knee-jerk rhetoric that chips away at the image of capability and confidence we want to project to others. I am absolutely tickled at the Just Not Sorry app for Chrome that helps us “build awareness of how we qualify our message and diminish our voice.” Alerting you to self-deprecating patterns in your written communications, it’s like spell check for your professional aplomb.
Every throw-away apology uttered, means one less idea generated, and a direct hit to your credibility. So own what you own, stuff your sorries in a sack, and get on with making things work.