Politeness is ingrained in all of us – more so in some cultures than others, but it is a universal pattern of behaviour used to make sure other people are aware that we mean no harm, we are thoughtful to others’ needs and show empathy for the people around us.
Saying “sorry” has become an automatic polite phrase these days. But how much do we really think about what we mean when we say it? We use it to show that we acknowledge we’ve done something wrong and no ill intention was meant by it. We use it because we’ve caused some kind of displeasure for another person, we may even say it without completely meaning it and only as a means to dispel a disagreement.
Don’t get me wrong, saying “sorry” has its place in our everyday lives like accidentally bumping into someone, expressing sympathy or empathy towards another person or allowing others to see you are expressing genuine regret for a mistake. But in certain situations, there is a much better way to apologise that will, not only fulfil your need to say sorry, but also allow the other person to feel much better.
While saying “sorry” can be grouped in the same politeness category as “thank you”, by saying we’re sorry we are ultimately exposing our weaknesses. Unknowingly, we are lowering our self-worth and harming our self-confidence by apologising for actions and circumstances.
For example, if you’re half an hour late to meet a friend, by saying “sorry” you are revealing your faults (in this case lack of punctuality). In turn, we are apologising for ourselves and wasting the friend’s time but also portraying ourselves as an incapable person.
“Thank you” is used to express gratitude and appreciation for others. It’s a very powerful phrase that takes away from ourselves and gives warmth to those around us. The amount of appreciation we express, and our ability to sincerely say “thank you” has a dramatic impact on how we relate to others.
While apologising is seen as a correct response to something we’ve done wrong, it leads to the assumption that other people are appreciative of our politeness and good manners but since it can be overused so much, it can actually become an empty automatic response with no real meaning.
By saying “thank you”, you are identifying the other person and you are recognising their contribution. In the example of turning up half an hour late to meet a friend, expressing thanks instead of an apology cultivates a sense of positivity between the two of you because you are appreciating the time they spent waiting for you instead of apologising for your faults i.e. your bad time-keeping skills.
By doing this, you aren’t diminishing your image or what the person thinks of you but instead praising the person for what they did instead.
“Thank you for your patience” is showing appreciation while “I’m so sorry, I’m always late” is not completely acknowledging the gratitude you have for the person who’s waited for you.
“Thank you for listening” is much better than “Sorry for going on and on”
Say “Thank you for spending time with me” rather than “Sorry for taking up all your time” because, again, you’re making assumptions about the other person while revealing your belief that you’re not important or worthy enough to take up someone’s time.
So if you really want to apologise to someone in an authentic way then make it about them. Allow the compliment of saying “thank you” to match the situation and even elaborate on why you appreciate someone for giving you their time by saying how much it means to you. Saying sorry comes very easily to us and while we may mean it whole-heartedly and it seems like the correct and polite response to use, by using this method, we are inadvertently taking our appreciation for them away.
By recognising the other person’s feelings and acknowledging them, you are praising the act they did because of you and allowing them to see you in a more positive light. At the end of the day, no one’s perfect and we can all do things to the detriment of others at times, so next time you find yourself in a situation of apology remember the power of “thank you” over saying “I’m sorry”.
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