If you look up the definition of the word “sorry”...
it’s an expression of contrition or apology for something we’ve done or not done which caused hurt to others, that we’re taking responsibility for a wrong and accepting accountability for it – and this has the effect of putting us on the defensive, even if only in our own heads.
By continually using the word “sorry” for an everyday action though, are we diminishing the value of a true, sincere apology?
Sure, if we reach across someone, or perhaps get a little too close to their personal space, it’s polite for us to excuse ourselves, but we’ve become far too concerned about hurting someone’s feelings and to use the “S” word in a circumstance where it’s really not warranted takes away some of our personal power and places the other person at an advantage that is undeserving – we are automatically elevating them and diminishing ourselves; it’s become a reflex, it whittles away our self-esteem and we know this, but we still apologise for the smallest of inconveniences and this results in us giving away a little bit of our self-worth each time so that. Drip by drip, we become less.
Growing up, we were taught to say “excuse me”, so where did this need to apologise for ourselves come from, do we really feel that we need to be repentant for what would be considered reasonable actions? Too often now though, I see people use the word when walking a little too close to someone or moving across their path, often when there is no justification to apologise, but only to excuse ourselves.
Or perhaps a simple “thank you” would be another choice, the power of a word or two of thanks is the showing of appreciation for the actions of another and has the effect of elevating both the speaker and the recipient; there are studies which show that the power of “Thank you” releases serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for happiness whereas “sorry” elevates our cortisol – the stress hormone.
Think of it this way – how do we feel when we say “I’m sorry for keeping you waiting” when we could (and should) be saying “thank you for your patience” – or compare “sorry I’m late” with “Thanks for waiting for me” it’s a fine line and a subtle shift, but check your own responses as being on both the sending and receiving end of these messages and you’ll see where the power lies in changing our external dialogue.
I’m guilty of this too, and it’s interesting the internal and external reactions when you change your language and start using an alternate expression – I’ve noticed people respond far more positively when you excuse yourself rather than apologise; I’ve also coached a number of my clients in this – especially when having a difficult conversation, rather than apologizing if the expression used is one of excusing themselves for breaking into their day, the result achieved is closer to the intended objective and more collaborative, and the same when cutting through a queue, or reaching across a table or desk – by excusing rather than apologising, the response is a cooperation rather than resignation.
So let’s not say sorry any more – unless we truly do have something to apologise for.