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Business Communication Tip: Stop Saying “Sorry”

Enhance your business communication skills by mastering the art of effective apologies. We often find ourselves apologizing for everything – sorry for interrupting, sorry for taking up space, sorry just in case. It's a common phenomenon, especially in a business environment. Not only is this often unnecessary, but it can make you look less confident in your own abilities, and it diminishes the power of the word "sorry" when you actually mean it.

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Start Using These Alternatives Today

In this post, I’ll provide five examples of how to replace “I’m sorry” with more confident and positive phrases, and why it’s essential for your personal and professional image. Whether you’re in business, studying, or simply improving your communication skills, mastering the art of apologizing appropriately is an essential skill to acquire.

Why Replacing “I’m Sorry” is Important

Constantly apologizing, especially for minor issues or things outside of your control, can undermine your position. A study conducted by the Harvard Business School indicates that over-apologizing in professional contexts can undermine one’s credibility and authority, highlighting the importance of strong business communication skills. In a professional setting, excessive apologies can make you appear less confident and assertive. Understanding which rules to follow and which to ignore will give you the freedom to decide what to say and how to present yourself.

Alternatives to “I’m Sorry”

Instead of saying sorry in an email, use:

      1. Thank you for catching that, I’m going to update it right away…
      2. I appreciate you bringing this error to my attention….
      3. Thank you for flagging this issue for me…

    For example, if a colleague points out a mistake in your report, instead of saying, “I’m sorry for the error,” you can say, “Thank you for catching that, I’ll update it right away.” This approach shows gratitude and a willingness to correct the mistake without undermining your competence.

    If you’re running a little late, instead of sorry use:

        1. Thank you for waiting for me…
        2. Thank you for your patience…
        3. I appreciate your understanding as I navigate through this unexpected delay…

      For instance, when arriving late to a meeting, instead of saying, “I’m sorry I’m late,” you can say, “Thank you for waiting for me.” This conveys appreciation for their patience rather than drawing attention to your lateness.

      Instead of saying sorry to interrupt you, use:

          1. I’d like to add…
          2. I’d like to expand on that…
          3. Is now a good time to talk?

        During a discussion, instead of saying, “Sorry to interrupt,” you can say, “I’d like to add…” This allows you to contribute to the conversation confidently without apologizing for your input.

        Instead of saying sorry if you don’t agree with someone use:

            1. Let’s walk through this again to figure out the best way to…
            2. Let’s revisit this to explore alternative viewpoints.
            3. Could we discuss this further to find the most effective solution?

          For example, in a meeting where you disagree with a proposed idea, instead of saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t agree,” you can say, “Let’s walk through this again to figure out the best way to proceed.” This fosters collaboration and problem-solving without sounding apologetic.

          Flip the Script

          The constant need to apologize requires the same strategy as kicking any other habit: building a strong new pathway in the brain through attention and mindful practice. Pay attention to each time you apologize excessively and try to swap your apologies for other phrases.

          When to Ask for Forgiveness

          While a genuine “I’m sorry” when you’ve done something wrong is a sign of good manners and shows that you care, over-using the term “I’m sorry” is not going to help your reputation and image. It can undermine your credibility, professionalism, competence, and authority. Here are instances when a sincere apology is necessary:

              • Apologize when you’ve harmed someone.

              • Do it when you’ve offended, disappointed, or hurt a person’s feelings.

              • Ask for forgiveness when you regret your behavior.

              • Be capable of asking for forgiveness every time you make a mistake and your mistake affects others.

              • Apologize to end disputes and leave behind old grudges.

            By replacing excessive apologies with more positive and assertive phrases, you can enhance your personal and professional image. Remember, a genuine apology when necessary is a sign of good etiquette and professionalism, but overusing apologies can undermine your authority and credibility.

            For more tips on mastering business etiquette and enhancing your personal brand, explore our online courses and digital etiquette ebooks. Sign up for a free consultation to learn how we can help you become the best version of yourself.

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            Kristina Szabova is a certified Etiquette Consultant and member of the International Association of Professional Etiquette Consultants.