Politeness is ingrained in all of us – more so in some cultures than others – but it is a universal pattern of behavior used to ensure that other people know we mean no harm, are considerate of others' needs, and have empathy for those around us.
These days, saying “sorry” has become an automatic polite phrase. But how often do we really consider what we mean when we say it? We use it to demonstrate that we recognize we've done something wrong and that no malice was intended. We use it to express our displeasure with another person; we may even say it without fully understanding what we're saying and only to dispel a disagreement.
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Don't get me wrong: saying “sorry” has its uses in our daily lives, such as accidentally bumping into someone, expressing sympathy or empathy to another person, or allowing others to see you are genuinely sorry for a mistake. However, in certain situations, there is a much better way to apologize that will not only satisfy your need to apologize, but will also make the other person feel much better.
Saying “I'm sorry” Is Important, But It Has Its Uses
While saying “sorry” is in the same politeness category as saying “thank you,” saying “sorry” ultimately exposes our weaknesses. By apologizing for our actions and circumstances, we are unknowingly lowering our self-worth and harming our self-confidence.
For example, if you are half an hour late to meet a friend, saying “sorry” exposes your flaws (in this case lack of punctuality). As a result, we are not only apologizing for ourselves and wasting our friend's time, but we are also portraying ourselves as inept.
The Influence of Saying “Thank You” “Thank you” is a phrase used to express gratitude and appreciation for others. It's a powerful phrase that takes away from us while warming those around us. The amount of gratitude we express, as well as our ability to say “thank you,” has a significant impact on how we relate to others.
While apologizing is seen as the correct response to something we've done wrong, it leads to the assumption that other people appreciate our politeness and good manners, but because it can be overused, it can actually become an empty automatic response with no real meaning.
Saying “Thank You” vs. “Sorry”
By saying “thank you,” you identify the other person and acknowledge their contribution. In the case of arriving half an hour late to meet a friend, expressing gratitude rather than apologizing fosters a sense of positivity between the two of you because you are appreciating the time they spent waiting for you rather than apologizing for your faults, i.e. your poor time-keeping skills.
You are not diminishing your image or what the person thinks of you by doing this, but rather praising the person for what they did.
“Thank you for your patience” expresses gratitude, whereas “I'm so sorry, I'm always late” does not fully acknowledge the gratitude you have for the person who has waited for you.
“Thank you for listening” is preferable to “Sorry for going on and on,” because you are expressing gratitude for their time and friendship rather than revealing your low self-esteem by assuming they did not want to listen to you.
Say “Thank you for spending time with me” rather than “I'm sorry for taking up all your time,” because you're making assumptions about the other person while revealing your belief that you're not important or worthy of someone's time.
So, if you truly want to apologize to someone in a genuine way, make it about them. Allow the compliment of saying “thank you” to fit the situation and even elaborate on why you appreciate someone's time by saying how much it means to you. Saying sorry comes naturally to us, and while we may mean it wholeheartedly and it appears to be the correct and polite response to use, we are inadvertently taking our appreciation for them away by doing so.
By recognizing and acknowledging the other person's feelings, you are praising the act they performed because of you and allowing them to see you in a more positive light. At the end of the day, no one is perfect, and we can all do things to the detriment of others at times, so remember the power of “thank you” over saying “I'm sorry” the next time you find yourself in a situation requiring an apology.
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