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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The Two Words You Should Start Saying Instead of "I'm Sorry"

We all say “I’m sorry” too often—that much you already know. And, trust me, I’m right in that boat with you. I’m consciously aware of the fact that I’m a chronic over-apologizer.

Sure, I’ve read the countless articles about apps that could help me and little tweaks that could stop me in my tracks before those two small words mindlessly flew out of my mouth. But, in all honesty, very little of it has worked for me. Nothing really sticks, and I still catch myself apologizing way more often than it should.

That is, until recently. I saw this Tumblr post circulating around the internet, and it piqued my interest.

Appreciation Over Apologies

Instead of attempting to stop yourself from saying something altogether, the user suggests replacing that oft-repeated “I’m sorry” with two different words: Thank you. This flips the script and changes something that could be perceived as a negative mistake into a moment for you to express your gratitude and appreciation.

Sounds great in theory, right? But, how practical could it actually be? Would this be yet another suggested phrase that gets thrown out of the window the second I feel tempted to apologize?

Naturally, I felt the need to test it out myself—which is exactly what I’ve been doing over the course of the past week. It involves quite a bit of conscious thought (yes, there have been plenty of times when an apology was dancing on my lips, and I managed to catch it just in time). But, so far I’ve managed to be pretty consistent with this change.

When an editor pointed out an error I had made in one of my articles, I didn’t respond immediately with, “Ugh, I’m so sorry about that!” Instead, I sent a reply with a line that read, “Thank you for that helpful note!”

And, like the Tumblr user, when I ran late for a coffee meeting with a networking acquaintance, I resisted the urge to apologize profusely and instead thanked her for waiting for me.

Did it Work?

While it does take a little bit of effort on your end (and, fair warning, you might slip up a few times at first), swapping out these words is still a relatively small change for you to make. But, rest assured, so far I’ve noticed a big impact—more so with myself than with the people I had been previously apologizing to.

When I had previously spewed out countless sorries, I spent a good chunk of time feeling guilty. I had begun our exchange with something negative, which then seemed to cast a dark shadow over the rest of our conversation—like I had started things off on the wrong foot and needed to spend the rest of my time proving myself and recovering for my faux pas.

But, by switching that negative to a positive, I found that I could move on from my slip-up much faster. I didn’t need to spend time mentally obsessing over what I had screwed up because my genuine “thank you” had provided a much more natural segue into a different discussion—rather than the awkward exchange that typically follows an apology.

Needless to say, this is a change I plan to continue to implement to improve my communication skills. It’s the only thing I’ve found that actually halts my over-apologizing. And, as an added bonus, it transforms those previously remorse-filled exchanges into something constructive and upbeat. What more could you want?

Are you going to try this subtle change yourself? Let me know on Twitter how it goes for you!

Photo of people talking courtesy of Jetta Productions/Getty Images.