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Replacing “Sorry” in the Workplace

Nov 28, 2022
Replacing “Sorry” in the Workplace

“I’m sorry”

How guilty have you been for saying this at work? 

Whether you made a mistake or not - we’ve all been in a position where we’re over-apologising in the workplace. Whether it’s out of being excessively polite or simply due to lack of confidence - over-apologising can be a curse as it can reduce your status, respect and ultimately impact how you set boundaries at work.

Often times we think, ‘Oh I’m being polite, they’re going to perceive me as being a kind human being,’” says Dr. Jovanovic. “But in fact, we are perceived in the complete opposite way. 

In actuality, we are seen as not confident, as insecure, doubtful and incompetent.”There are, of course, occasions where “I’m sorry” is warranted in the workplace, but these are few and far between compared to the amount of times the two words are said.” - The Globe and Mail, study on women saying “sorry” by Dr Jovanovic.

We’ve spoken about boundaries countless times on the Orbis blog - and lack of boundaries can equal over-apologising, and in the long-term create struggles around communicating your needs. Additionally, if you fall into the habit of over-apologising, it loses its effect and sincerity, thus making it harder to convey a meaningful apology when it’s really needed.

So, what words or phrases can you use in replacement for “sorry”? 

“Thank-you”

Thanking an individual for their time, flexibility, or input - is a great way to assert your confidence and make that individual feel appreciated.

For example, let’s say that you’re running late for a meeting and you’ve already pre-warned attendees that you’ll be a few minutes over time - instead of coming into the meeting room flustered, apologising and feeling guilty - focus on thanking those individuals for their time. Life happens - and you can’t live every single part of your working day perfectly. Focus on replacing “sorry” with “thank-you” as a starting point!

I appreciate you/this

This is a great phrase to use in replacement for “sorry” if you are receiving information, advice, or feedback that could be considered “negative” or potentially misconstrued as being told off. Our inner critics can be very crafty at times - and instead of seeing comments as constructive criticism to enable us to be better, it can translate into us feeling like we aren’t good enough and that we need to apologise.

Telling someone that you appreciate them or their comments, and that the information or feedback that they’ve given is helpful - enables you to still set a boundary, acknowledge that you need to improve, and shows the other individual that you are open to taking feedback. It’s one of the most useful skills that you can learn in the workplace - and trust us, we know how difficult it can be to take feedback onboard at times!

The bottom line, is that you should focus on using positive, reinforcing language each time you want to say sorry

If you really feel like saying sorry is the right thing to do - then don’t shy away from it. However, think of your delivery, what you’re saying sorry for, and what the solution is.

For example - let’s say you make a mistake at work, and sorry is the only way that you can rectify things, your delivery should be focussed on three areas: apology, acknowledgement, and solution.

Apology: I’m sorry for making this mistake, it was completely unintentional and I recognise the impact that it has had on me and the rest of the team.

Acknowledgement: I take full responsibility for the mistake that I’ve made and understand what was wrong and what I should have done instead.

Solution: I propose that in the future I approach the situation in X way.

Saying sorry isn’t weak - and saying sorry shouldn’t just disappear out of your vocabulary at work. 

Instead, it’s about switching up your communication style and delivery to ensure that you are setting boundaries, taking on feedback, and feeling confident in your ability. Accept that things won’t be perfect, and mistakes are necessary to improve and grow in your professional and personal life!

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