Was Elton (or Blue depending on your age) right when he sang that sorry seems to be the hardest word? Well, maybe in the context of his song but in reality it’s the opposite and is in fact a word I hear ALL the time…
Sorry I’m late.
Sorry to bother you.
Sorry if this has been said.
Sorry if I shouldn’t be posting this.
Sorry, I just had to…insert perfectly reasonable explanation: sleep/ eat/ poop.
The thing is, it’s very common for people (especially women) to apologise for a) things that don’t need apologising for, b) things outside of their control or c) for simply existing!!!
And this is where Elton gets it right…it IS getting more and more absurd!!!
But why do we do it?
Well, it’s not, as is often said, because we’re weak and pathetic women. It’s because we’re decent, kind, compassionate people who don’t want to put people out or cause upset. But it can often run deeper than that…
Someone who apologises excessively may also be holding on to a low level, deeply held in the unconscious, limiting belief about themselves and how they are viewed. Maybe they believe they don’t deserve to be here or don’t deserve to be heard? Maybe they believe they’re not good enough and so think that they’re always letting people down? Maybe they were told as a child that children should be seen and not heard and so feel a need to apologise for even speaking?
When it comes to limiting beliefs, it’s not as simple as changing the unwanted behaviour however (i.e. saying sorry too often), because what normally happens is another unwanted behaviour steps up in its place. Yes, I can and will share some alternatives to saying sorry, but this will not resolve the limiting beliefs which is not serving you. That takes a different kind of work. But the good news is it is totally possible. My favourite method of removing limiting beliefs is TimeLine Therapy™, and you can learn what that is here.
Let’s not digress, and get back to the issue of saying sorry…
Something happens to our energy when we say sorry. We pass the power over to the other person/ people. We are telling them that we are in the wrong and they’re in the right, and therefore that they are in control. This is not an equal conversation.
You CAN have powerful conversations instead, conversations in which you take responsibility where necessary yet remain in control… without saying sorry.
When I ran a GP surgery, I used to have lots of conversations with the reception team about the frustrations patients felt when there were long waits to get through. GP receptionists get a pretty bad rep most of the time but the ones I worked with (and I went on to provide training in lots of surgeries all around the country) all cared very deeply about the patients and felt annoyed when there were long wait times on the phones. This wasn’t the receptionists showing a lack of compassion for the annoyances of the patients, yet we were still seeing situations where patients were angry and aggressive towards the team members, which is never okay either.
So, what was going on?
I started listening in to some of the phone calls – of course we ensured full disclosure of this! And something I noticed straight away was the opening of the call… The receptionist would answer the call stating the name of the surgery and then….’sorry for your wait’. The patients would then start saying how it wasn’t good enough, how they had been waiting for ages and sometimes this would escalate further – this was a huge lose-lose! The patient was so distracted by the wait time that they weren’t focusing on why they were calling and potentially harming their health by feelings of stress, and the receptionist was dealing with the patients’ anger taking time away from coordinating them to the most appropriate service or appointment leading to longer wait times on the phones, so the next person was just as, if not more, angry. This just would not do.
We decided to change one small thing. Rather than ‘sorry for your wait’ we changed it to ‘Thank you for waiting, how can I help you?’ The change was immediate and dramatic. Did you feel the shift as you read that?
The response soon shifted too, and was now nearly always ‘Oh no problem, I understand how busy it is, I would like to see Dr…….’ and so the call would go on. What a difference! Not only were patients and the reception teams happier but we also saw a decrease in call wait times! Win win!
Acknowledging the anger, sadness, hurt, fear or guilt of another is compassionate but you do not have to take the responsibility for it.
That doesn’t mean never say sorry ever again! In business, as we know, sometimes things don’t go right and we make mistakes and it IS right to own those mistakes. ‘I’m sorry this happened, this is what I would like to do rectify the situation’ is a powerful and sometimes necessary sentence. But please, consider your sorries before you say them!
Here are some common sorries with some suggestions of phrases you could try instead…
Sorry it’s late → Thank you for waiting.
Sorry it’s out of stock → Thank you for your interest, this is what we have currently available.
Sorry I don’t understand → Please could you explain that again?
Sorry, that’s not what I meant → Thank you for your question, allow me to explain a different way…
Sorry, I messed up → Thank you for the feedback, this will really help us improve our processes going forward.
Which ‘sorry’ are you most guilty of and what will you say in its place? Do let me know over in my free group ‘Lemonade’ where I’ll be asking these exact questions, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d love support with making your not needed sorries (and your underlying limiting beliefs) disappear!