What to Say Instead of “I’m Sorry”

I am a chronic “I’m sorry”-er. Truly. The words leave my mouth upwards of 10 times each day, very often to inanimate objects – “I’m sorry” is even bestowed on the table I bump into or the spoon I drop on the floor.

Frankly…it’s a bit much. My sorry-ing is a mindless habit. “I’m sorry” is employed by many – particularly women – to maintain the image of being a nice, kind, unassuming, and flexible person. It’s something I say to cover my bases, just in case someone takes offense to my actions. But today’s note is actually about how as a new mom, I learned that “I’m sorry” could have the opposite impact I was intending, and how I decided to use my words differently.

I started to realize the ill-effects of “I’m sorry” a few weeks after Theo was born. It was after we’d had a particularly strenuous night with Theo – lots of wake-ups and fussing. I had done the majority of the wake-ups to breastfeed because Shaun had a big day of travel the next day. In the morning he said “I’m sorry you had to wake up with him so often.”

Innocuous enough, but I felt a little funny after he said it, and I wasn’t really sure why.

Over the next few weeks, it would continue to happen. I would do something extra or more than my share to take care of Theo or the house, and Shaun would say “I’m sorry” that I had to do those things. It took a few times of having that funny feeling in my belly before I realized why.

I realized that I didn’t want to hear “I’m sorry”. I actually wanted to hear “thank you”.

Thank you for picking up the baby. Thanks for waking up early with him yesterday. “I’m sorry” felt like disempowering pity, whereas “thank you” was empowering appreciation.

I started to really dive in and think about this difference – the distinction between “I’m sorry” and “thank you”. One of my takeaways was that “I’m sorry” makes the statement about the person delivering the apology. It’s a “me” statement.

On the other hand, when you say “thank you”, it shows the action taken by both parties. It shows the speaker’s appreciation, and it acknowledges that the recipient did something, rather than simply being a victim of circumstance.

Here’s a really obvious way to show this. When I say “I’m sorry” after I run into the dining room table, it’s all about me. It was my actions that caused the disruption and the table has no conscious part to play in the situation.

On the other hand, let’s say I don’t reply to an email after 2 weeks. Instead of saying “I’m sorry for the delay,” I can say “Thank you for your patience”. “I’m sorry” is all about me and my email habits. “Thank you” acknowledges the other person’s patience and how my emailing affected them.

Obviously, there are times to apologize, like when we’ve truly wronged someone or when we made a mistake. But there are so many situations where we use “I’m sorry” when it’s not really an apology, but rather a defensive shield against seeming out of line.

Below are some situations where you could shift from saying “I’m sorry” to saying “thank you”. Imagine yourself on the receiving end of these statements to see how different it feels to receive “thank you” rather than “I’m sorry”.

“I’m sorry it took me so long to respond to this text” becomes “Thanks for your patience as I got to this text.”

“I’m sorry I’m busy that night” becomes “Thank you so much for the invitation”

“I’m sorry that didn’t work out as planned” becomes “Thank you for your flexibility throughout this.”

It’s crazy how different it feels, isn’t it?

Your challenge should you choose to accept it: look for opportunities to say “thank you”. Find more “thank yous”, and you’ll start to drop meaningless “I’m sorries”.

I’d love to hear your take – do you say “I’m sorry” too much? Have you tried to change? What do you think about saying “thank you” instead? Simply reply to this email and let me know.

(Oh, and Shaun and I had a really wonderful conversation about “thank you” vs “I’m sorry” and we’re both a lot better at it now!)

  Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,   samantha attard sig

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