Last year, I caught myself falling into a really sneaky trap. I was using “baby language” (trademark pending) in my professional emails. I’m not sure what the official name of this is but you can find the following examples below:
“I was just wondering…”
“Hopefully you can help me out with this…”
“Sorry to bother you, but…”
It seems so small but phrases like the above really delegitimized not only the email itself, but the urgency of any request I put through. Shockingly, the habit wasn’t hard to kick….except for SORRY. As both a Canadian and a woman, the word comes all too naturally to me. Sure sometimes you really need to apologize, but most of the time it’s unnecessary. The big issue with saying sorry lies not only in placing blame on ourselves in the eyes of others, but also in diminishing how we view ourselves.
I gave up on kicking the habit until I read (on Tumblr, yolo) that someone was trying to replace apologies with gratitude. I decided to try it out for myself and in case were wondering what this entails, I’ll provide a few factitious scenarios:
Nate is waiting at a restaurant for his friend Serena and she’s late *gasp*. In this scenario, Serena has a totally legitimate reason for being late, and in this day and age, she texted her friend telling him she would be late. There are two options here:
Frazzled, Serena could rush in, talking a mile a minute and say: “I’m SO SO SORRY I’m 15 minutes late but Chuck needed to be dropped off at Constance Billard to pick up some of the assignments that he missed after his leave of absence from school cause, you know, his father passed away tragically.”
Serena, with her perfect blonde hair, can calmly take a seat at the table and say: “Thanks for waiting for me, Nate! Chuck and Blair got the assignments they needed. Have you ordered yet?”
If you approach a situation with gratitude, not only will you feel better but you’ll also stroke the ego of the person you would direct that apology towards. Now the above example is obviously small potatoes—so what? You’re a little late to lunch. People can turn the other cheek easily for that. Let’s think bigger.
Lorelai, a single mother of one, decided to open an inn with her best friend, Sookie. Lorelai handles the money and logistics while Sookie handles the kitchen. During the construction, money is tight and Lorelai falls behind on bills *gasp*. The contractor, while understanding, does need to be paid eventually. Lorelai could approach this one of two ways:
With a sad baby face, Lorelai could say: “I am SO SORRY but I don’t have the money today. I promise you’ll I’ll have it by next week. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
With a professional, yet warm demeanor, she could say: “We ran into an issue but I anticipate having the money for you by next week. Thank you so much for your patience with this. Your hard work is really appreciated and I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Even in a situation like Lorelai’s where someone legitimately messes up, an acknowledgement of gratitude can go a lot farther than a fruitless apology. It’s not only reframing how we say sorry but how we approach our relationships. This does three things:
- It reminds our friends/colleagues/etc that we appreciate them while still acknowledging we may have inconvenienced them.
- It allows us to acknowledge our mess up without putting an excessive amount of guilt on our conscience (unless we deserve that excessive amount of guilt…but that’s a whole different story).
- It teaches us, as humans, to approach every scenario in a more positive way. Being gracious is a way of life, not just a way to apologize.
So next time you mess up, think of how you can make it a positive. Was someone kind in the way they handled your mistake? Was someone patient or understanding in a scenario where others wouldn’t have been? Did someone else work a little harder as a result of the mistake you made? Recognize and applaud the goodness in them and it will truly create a more positive relationship while simultaneously saving your relationship with yourself.