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”.

It’s time to retire “stay safe” as a closing phrase for every phone conversation.

Photo by Pixabay on, updated by author.

This observation can apply to any well-meaning phrase, but is primarily inspired by one of my colleagues who tells clients to “stay safe” as the closing to every phone conversation. The habit is so entrenched, the phrase was accidentally said to me during a quick phone conversation, from across the office. “Stay safe” also happens to be the default closing statement of this person’s emails.

Why is this such a bad thing?

The well-meaning phrase became popular during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was appropriate at the time because people were contracting the virus and dying in high numbers. There was also a great flare-up of social unrest at the time too and staying safe was a subtle reminder that our society is not as safe as it once was.

While homicides are still rising in most of the major cities, new infections and deaths from the Coronavirus have been waning for the past 4 months[1]. This was thanks to our better understanding of the virus and our ability to treat it improved, and most of the industrialized world now has easy access to vaccines. The phrase no longer seems appropriate and using it with every single conversation can sound disingenuous at this point.

What should we say instead?

Anything, but be careful to not be repetitive. There will be people you’ll need to maintain regular communication with and using the same phrase over and over again as a replacement to “goodbye” will inadvertently send the wrong message. If I heard someone say “stay safe” to me by a representative a week ago and hear the same person say it the 3 or 4 times I called today, that tells me you really don’t care if I live or die.

Instead of repeating the same phrase, try switching it up or maybe revert back to the old ways of closing a conversation by saying:

“Have a nice day/afternoon/evening.”

“Take it easy.” Or: “Take it easy now.”

“Talk to you later.”

Or simply say: “Goodbye.”

All of these phrases are simple and effective ways of closing a conversation. Even better, they don’t have an underlying foreboding of impending injury or doom. Although, “Talk to you later” may be a bit awkward to say to a client you have no intention of conversing with for several months.

If we must wish the person a safe day, we should consider closing the conversation with:

“Look after yourself.”

“Take care.”

My personal favorite way of wishing someone well is, “Take care.” I think it’s positive and can be used as a closer similar to “goodbye”. I also get the sense the statement doesn’t cast the same shadow of dread which existed in 2020.

I reluctantly mention this because I personally do not approve of mixing religion with work. However, if you feel comfortable enough with the conversation, you may consider closing with: “God be with you” or “God bless.”

Aside from slamming the phone on the receiver, there isn’t a right or wrong way to close a conversation. What’s important is to be mindful of not falling into a repetitive habit which makes us seem insincere… even if you happen to be dishonest or two-faced (insincere synonyms, per my spellchecker).

[1] New infections and deaths had dramatically declined over the past few moths, but seem to have increased in recent weeks. This has been attributed to the anti-vaxxers, the Covid-hoaxers, tracking chip theorists, and those who may have been discouraged from getting the vaccine, catching the fast-spreading Delta variant and, on occasion, dying.