Don’t be Sorry

About 10-12 years ago, a coworker of mine once told me that I should never say “I’m sorry”. Instead, I should say, “I apologize”.

She explained that saying “I’m sorry” implies that you are a “sorry” person. It casts you in a negative light, and continued usage could contribute to unhappiness or general depression.

Think about how often we say that simple phrase.

  • We say it if we violate someone’s personal space.
  • We say it when we need something repeated.
  • We say it to interrupt someone in a conversation. 
  • We say it to express loss.

If you enter someone’s personal space by reaching for something, or if you accidentally bumped into them, that person is probably looking at you with a startled or annoyed expression. “Excuse me” is the best response to give that person. Especially if you bumped into them, because “sorry” could be perceived as an admission of guilt.

If you can’t hear someone, it’s common to say, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” However, it sounds much nicer if you say this instead: “I apologize, but could you repeat that.” Or, if you want to be retro about it, you could try: “I beg your pardon…”.

If you need to interrupt someone while they’re speaking, you can try breaking into the conversation during a pause between subjects. Unfortunately, this can be hard if you’re talking to someone who steamrolls a conversation (like a motor-mouth). If it doesn’t seem like a pause will ever come, you could use a hand gesture to signal that you’d like to say something.

I sometimes use a low, half-wave, half-patting gesture, as a signal that I want to speak.

When acquaintances lose loved ones, we tend to say: “I’m sorry for your loss”. I personally prefer this phrase because it makes you sound humble and conveys genuine sympathy. However, if there’s an organization-wide email announcing a coworker’s loss, I’ll send a personal message with: “My condolences…”. It’s a good way to convey the same message, but in a professional manner.

We say “I’m sorry” for many reasons. If it’s said excessively throughout life, it can be easy to start using the phrase for even the most innocuous reasons. Maybe even when we’ve been wronged.

I’ve long since left that job, and the coworker faded out of my memory, but I took her advice to heart by trying not to live by “I’m sorry”. The next time you find yourself in a situation that requires an apology, don’t be a sorry person. Instead, express positive politeness with: “I apologize”.

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