Underrated Skills: How To Say Sorry
“Will be 10 minutes late. Thank you for waiting”
Recently I had planned a meeting with a busy friend of mine who you’d find running over 10 businesses at any given time. As I was reaching the meeting point, he sent me this text: “Will be 10 minutes late. Thank you for waiting”. I smiled, responded with “No worries”, and then proceeded to think about what a great response that was.
“Thank you for waiting”
Instead of saying “I’m sorry for being late”, he instead decided to thank me. That subtle difference completely changed the way I felt about that situation. I actually smiled instead of going “ugh, ok” in my head. In fact, he didn’t even say sorry and I knew he felt remorse. It got me thinking of how the use (or the lack of use) of the word “sorry” can be so powerful.
Growing up we were taught that saying sorry meant that you feel bad and that you won’t do it again. But we’re not taught how to say sorry. We’re only taught when to say it.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of us end up profusely apologizing in the workplace or to our partner when mistakes are made. But that usually doesn’t help the situation they way we want it to.
Personally, I had a huge disconnect in the way I apologize at the workplace and the way I apologize to my romantic partner.
My Workplace Apology
At work, whenever I made a mistake, I’d say “My bad” and immediately follow up with how I’m going to fix it. This was all wrapped up with confidence and matter-of-fact tone of voice in which the CEO would show some frustration, but quickly move past the situation.
Yet mistakes and all, I’d often be given a lot more responsibility and higher positions.
However, I’ve witnessed several of the people I worked with profusely apologize when they make a mistake. They were worried and slightly frantic. But as you’d guess, not only did the CEO show a lot more frustration, he’d often remove responsibilities while asking others to supervise over them.
The difference between both those outcomes is shocking. Both me and that employee probably felt equally as “sorry” and were equally as capable to fix our mistakes. Yet one of us had to take a step back while the other, a step forward. And it was the one that didn’t say “sorry” at all.
My Relationship Apology
The way I apologize to my partner was the complete opposite of how I apologize at work. I panic, profusely apologize, and sometimes immediately have tears in my eyes. Yet usually, the frustration doesn’t decrease. Hell, sometimes, it gets worse.
How does that even work? Here I am, feeling sorry and regretful. Having so much sadness that I involuntarily get tears and somehow that aggravates and prolongs the situation? How can my genuine feeling of remorse make someone more frustrated?!
For the longest time, that confused the hell out of me. Until one day I realized that the way I apologized to my partner was the same way my colleague apologized to the CEO.
Removing The Disconnect
If apologies worked the way we were told they were supposed to work, frustration should slowly diffuse as soon as you say give a genuine “I’m sorry”. Yet it doesn’t always work that way.
While women tend to be a lot more receptive to apologies even if they’re told in panic and low confidence, the overall outcome is usually the same. They lose confidence in you.
So what’s the deal?
We often forget just how much our words can influence a situation. We forget that certain words can invoke an instinctive response that the receiver might not even be aware of.
So let me share with you the 2 powerful truths of apologies that no one really talks about:
- The more you apologize, the more the other person will instinctively feel like you’ve wronged them. It often blows the situation way out of proportion because you’re focusing on the apology more than you’re focusing on fixing the problem.
- When you apologize profusely while emanating panic and low confidence, you immediately prove to the other person that you’re not capable of fixing the mistake AND that they’ve now got to step up and take care of you (which isn’t a nice feeling to have when they’re the one that is upset from your mistake)
Think about how much is going on here. If you don’t apologize right, you can make the other feel even more wronged, make them lose confidence in you, and force them to be responsible for your feelings instead of letting them feel entitled to theirs.
Ingredients Of A Damn Good Apology
So what makes a great apology? Here are some key elements:
- Saying sorry once
- A collected demeanor
- Acknowledging what you did
- Focusing on a solution
- Thanking the other person for being patient/understanding
It’s a lot easier said than done, which is why it’s so powerful when done right. But with practice, it can gradually become a natural way you apologize. You can start small! For example:
Instead of saying giving into feeling bad by saying “Sorry for ranting and talking about myself for so long”, you can say “Thank you for hearing me out”. Instead of saying “Sorry if I’m being too much”, you can say “Thank you for letting me be me”. Instead of saying “I’m sorry for being late” you can say “I’m going to be late. Thank you for waiting”.
The more you practice, the more you’ll realize it’s a lot less about the exact words you use and more about the perspective you have on situations where you’ve made mistakes. You’ll realize that keeping a collected demeanor instead of profusely apologizing isn’t about restraint, it’s about holding a perspective that’s driven by self confidence and self respect.
Learning how to apologize is one of the many underrated skills that help you develop respectable impressions and form stronger relationships in both your personal and professional life.
So the next time you make a mistake, take a deep breath, don’t give in to panic impulses, and remember that saying “sorry” is a lot more than just saying the words “I’m sorry”.