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Learn to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry.” We apologize so much that it becomes a part of our personality
I’m snaking my way through the showers to the pool at the gym which is trickier than it sounds. There are a ton of women, mostly all naked, doing all different kinds of activities. Some are showering, but others are looking through their bags for their post-workout-toiletries, while a small group chatting have situated themselves awkwardly in the center between the two rows of showers. I try not to get in anybody’s way, maneuvering around the social circle, when a woman comes through the pool-door and body slams me into the wall.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say to her. She makes the universal sound for “That’s okay” and I go on my way. Once I’m in the pool, I ask myself why I apologized to her in the first place; she ran into me. Was I apologizing for having the bad-timing of being in her way as she barreled through the door, or was I apologizing for just being?
I say it all the time—I say it out of habit, I say it when I’m not even conscious that I’m saying it, and I say it when I don’t know what else to say.
When we’re young, we’re taught to have good manners, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to be kind and respectful to others. But there’s a difference between being courteous and apologizing all the time.
As women, we’re trained to apologize—for the things we’ve done, haven’t done, or done badly. We apologize so much that it becomes a part of our personality.
If someone steps on my feet at a concert, I’ll say I’m sorry as if it’s my fault. If I have to send something back to the kitchen because it wasn’t cooked right, I’ll apologize to the wait-person. I apologize for other people’s mistakes, because I don’t want to hurt their feelings, I don’t want them to get angry, and sometimes I say it because I don’t have the energy to deal with the situation.
We send a message when we overuse any phrase, but especially “I’m sorry.” It says a lot about how we feel about ourselves and about how others see us. When we say that we’re sorry, much of the time it creates a power-imbalance with the apologizer giving their power to the recipient. It can show a lack of confidence, make you seem like a victim, or it can come off as fake or insincere.
It’s time to embrace #sorrynotsorry and make the decision to stop apologizing so much.
I was on Twitter and I noticed that someone had a tweeted an alternative to “I’m sorry”—they suggested to replace it with “Thank you.”
When you say, “Thank you,” instead of “I’m sorry,” it creates a more balanced social dynamic, and gives you back your power. You’re grateful instead of being apologetic. You’re not asking for someone to feel sorry for you, and you’re not seeking reassurance.
An alternative to saying, “I’m sorry, I’m late,” is to say, “Thank you for waiting for me.” If someone gives you notes on a project,” don’t apologize, say “Thank you for expecting more of me.” If someone slams you or something you’ve done, instead of saying that you’re sorry (especially if you’re not,) say “Thank you for the feedback.”
There’s a quote from the musician Willie Nelson and it goes, “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results,” and this is true when you replace “I’m sorry,” with “Thank you. It’s much more positive to be grateful than regretful for something you didn’t even do.
Exchanging “thank you” for “I’m sorry” isn’t going to work in every instance such as if you caused someone or something actual harm. If you damaged their car, absolutely say that you’re sorry about it, but not if you need to catch your breath before continuing your hike up a steep mountain and you’re afraid that you’re slowing the other hikers down. Take the time you need and don’t feel bad about it.
Another good rule of thumb is to never apologize for your work. Don’t say about the rough draft of your novel, “I’m sorry it’s not any good.” Instead say, “Thank you for taking the time to read it. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.”
The more you use “Thank you” in place of “I’m sorry,” the better and more confident you’re going to feel and your conversational-game is going to improve too.
While fault as well as bad sound negative in many contexts, when you use them to apologize for minor things, they bring some levity to your blunders. These expressions lean more toward slang and are very casual, so don’t use them in a serious environment in which pardon would be more appropriate!
Latin buffs will be familiar with mea culpa, which is Latin for my fault. My fault, which is an expression of culpability, can be used in a formal context. My bad is definitely informal and should be used only between friends.
Accidentally spill a drink on a friend? “Totally my fault / my bad, I’ll help you clean that up!” fits perfectly.
My fault and my bad both scratch the itch of needing to say something right away to smooth over a misstep. Since my bad in particular has been used since the 1980s, it’s possible you already have a place for it in your vocabulary. If you’re hip on newer slang, my b is a more recent alternative.
How to Use Thank You Instead
The other day, I was meeting my husband for dinner after a day of seeing clients. I got caught up in a bit of paperwork at the office, and kept him waiting for about 15 minutes. As I took the elevator downstairs, I thought, “man, I owe him an apology.” Then I thought of all of the times he’s been caught late at the office – how I understood that this happened, and what I really would have liked is an acknowledgement of the fact that this inconvenienced me. I turned this over in my head. The elevator door opened, and he was waiting outside.
“Thank you for being so patient!” I said.
“No problem – I know you like to finish your notes before you leave at the end of the day.”
We talked about it later, and I asked if he was offended that I didn’t apologize. He said it didn’t even register with him that I hadn’t said I was sorry. He told me that he felt appreciated when I acknowledged that it had been an inconvenience for him to wait, and he harbored no negative feelings. Plus – a bonus – I had an opportunity to express gratitude, which has been shown to be the most potent way to boost happy feelings.
And yes, dinner was lovely.
Sometimes, especially if you’re in the habit, “sorry” becomes reflexive. But if you have a bit of time – say, an elevator ride – to process what you’re going to say, ask yourself whether the same sentiment can be expressed with thank you. Here are some examples:
- “I’m sorry I forgot to bring that book you lent me.” vs “Thank you for being so understanding about my forgetting that book you lent me.”
- “I’m sorry I tripped and fell on you!” vs “Thank you for catching me!”
- “I’m sorry for burdening you with my feelings like this!” vs “Thank you for listening!”
Sometimes there is no “thank you” that you can substitute. I have occasionally walked down the street when a person shoves by me to pass. Almost compulsively, I say, “ooh, sorry!” This is ridiculous, of course, because I was just walking in a straight line and a stranger decided to violate my personal space… but it would be ridiculous to turn around and say “thank you for not completely knocking me over!” or “thank you for the human contact!” Sometimes the best response is no response at all.
13. Say Nothing
Sometimes people don’t need to hear your opinion. The next time you want to chime in and give empirical data supporting your side of an argument, stop and ask yourself the question, “Do I want to be happy, or do I want to be right?” More times than not, being happy means conceding the argument and enjoying the company of others.
10. Smile More
Research shows the confident people smile more. I’m not saying walk around with a beaming smile from ear-to-ear at all times–that’s creepy. What I am saying, is if you are in a good mood, make sure you don’t forget to tell your face. Additionally, smiling at others will trigger the mirror neurons in their brain to smile back at you–it’s contagious. People with great social skills are approachable, and nothing says, “Let’s be friends!”, than a genuine smile.
Can you repeat?
No, don’t repeat sorry! This one is about asking someone to repeat their question.
Instead of simply asking someone to repeat what they’ve said, too often we shift the blame to ourselves: “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.” Drop the sorry all together, it doesn’t belong here!
Repeat‘s definition is “to say or utter again,” and was recorded in English during the 14th century.
Asking someone to repeat themselves isn’t rude; it promotes healthy communication. Next time you don’t understand something, ask: “Could you repeat that point?”
The power of language
If this idea seems silly or trivial to you, consider that the words you choose have more power than you may think. Author and pastor Joel Osteen says the words we speak shape our destiny.
“If we considered the power behind our words, we might choose them more carefully,” says Osteen.
“Our words are like seeds, and they will produce fruit. Everything you have in your life today is a direct result of what you’ve been saying and believing up to this point. You may think those words don’t matter, but those words are being planted and will bring a harvest in the future.”
Changing the way you speak really can change the way you feel, and the way people react to you, too. Has anyone ever said to you, “I wish you could hear yourself?” All too often, we can’t hear what we sound like to others. Saying “Thank you” instead of “I’m sorry” is one way to become more conscious of the words you use, and deliberately choose empowering language, rather than language that makes you feel – and appear – weak.
Gratitude is always a good habit to foster. Looking for things to be grateful for – like your friends putting up with you running late all the time, or always being willing to text you back when you’re having a relationship crisis, or spot you some cash when you’re running low until payday – puts you in a better state of mind than apologizing to everyone all the time does.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that, ‘In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.’
Besides, if you were really so awful, you wouldn’t have any friends. Think about all the times you’ve been there for the people you love: don’t you give them the same support, the same room to make mistakes, that they give you? Do you need them to tell you they’re sorry all the time? I’m betting you don’t. When you stop and think about it, we all have a lot to be grateful for.
Images via tumblr.com, mentalfloss.com, giphy.com, youtube.com
Comment: Do you find yourself apologizing all the time? Could you start saying “thank you” instead?
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About This Article
Co-authored by: Nicolette Tura, MA Authentic Living Expert This article was co-authored by Nicolette Tura, MA. Nicolette Tura is an Authentic Living Expert who operated her own wellness business for more than ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nicolette is a 500-hour Registered Yoga Teacher with a Psychology & Mindfulness Major, a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, and is an expert in authentic living. She holds a BA in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley and got her master’s degree in Sociology from SJSU. She constantly draws from her own wounds and challenges; with her training in the healing arts and sociology, she offers potent content, powerful meditations, and game-changing seminars on inspiring elevation on a personal and corporate level. This article has been viewed 5,116 times. How helpful is this? Co-authors: 7 Updated: January 14, 2021 Views: 5,116 Categories: Gratitude