If You Apologize When You Shouldn’t, Try Saying “Thank You” Instead

This holiday season (heck, year-round) you might find yourself apologizing for a lot of stuff. Schedules are crazy, there are so many expectations that come with the holidays, and it is hard to get it all done. If you’re like me, you want to apologize all the time because you don’t feel like you’re living up to expectations. This feeling is exacerbated because I chronically run late and am often slow in so many ways. My husband, family, and friends know that I almost always run about 15-20 minutes (something I’m working on) , and that makes me want to say I’m sorry for being late (which I am). I also tend to forget to respond to text messages from friends, so their texts might accidentally be unanswered for hours or even days. I’ll notice it when I go to text them and see that I never responded to a heartfelt text message. Again, so very tempted to apologize for being a bad friend (and sometimes I do) because I left them hanging. I’ve done this for well over a decade, which has led to so.many.apologies and so.much.guilt. And of course, it’s easy to apologize in emails: “Sorry to bother you, but…” or “Sorry this is late” or “Sorry for the inconvenience…” Then a couple of years ago, I came across a great piece of advice about a teeny tiny thing: instead of apologizing, say thank you. 

Make no mistake – I still feel guilty and my procrastination is something I constantly work on (yes, there will be a future blog post about working on procrastination, but…again…I’m a procrastinator). However, I have found that saying ‘thank you’ instead of ‘sorry’ has 2 great benefits: ‘thank you’ is the positive side to sorry’s negative. First, you feel better because you’re focusing on the positive (and maybe ignoring some of the guilt). Second, the other person feels appreciated. In 9 out of 10 cases, you’ll probably end up saying, “Thank you for your patience” and then the other person will think, ‘yeah! I am a patient person!”.

As much as I wish it were true, the change did not happen overnight. In fact, saying ‘thank you’ is a constant choice. After years of practice (read: beating myself up after saying the wrong thing in so many situations), I am marginally better at pausing before I speak and this tiny margin lets me say ‘thank you’ instead of ‘sorry’.

“Alright,” you may be thinking, “I’ve got the theory. What is the practical side of this? How do I actually work on saying ‘thank you’ instead of ‘I’m sorry’?” Glad you asked and thank you for your patience with me while I got to this. (See what I did there? I thanked you for your patience instead of apologizing for taking so long to get to the point.) Here are a few examples of when you can switch your apology with a thank you:

  • Sorry I’m running late. ⇒ Thank you for waiting on me.
  • Sorry I didn’t respond to your text message/email/phone call. ⇒ Thank you for your patience.
  • Sorry I’m so slow on this project. ⇒ Thank you for your patience while I figure this out.
  • Sorry I’m rambling. ⇒ Thank you for listening.
  • Sorry to bother you. ⇒ Thank you for your time. (Or, Excuse me.)
  • Sorry my family is so crazy. ⇒ Thank you for being so nice to my family.
  • Sorry I can’t make it tonight. ⇒ Thank you for understanding how crazy work/life is.
  • Sorry to ask you to do this.or Sorry for the inconvenience. ⇒ Thank you for your help.
  • Sorry I don’t have your Christmas present ready yet. ⇒ Thank you for being patient. It’ll be fun to give you your gift after Christmas and celebrate a little longer!

Extra tip: remove “sorry” from your emails and text messages. After you type something up, look it over and change out that ‘sorry’ for a ‘thank you’.

The next time you find yourself tempted to apologize to someone for something, try to pause and decide if you can thank them instead. And remember, it takes practice. You’ve probably been saying “I’m sorry” for a very long time and it’ll take awhile to change an ingrained habit.

One thought on “If You Apologize When You Shouldn’t, Try Saying “Thank You” Instead

  1. I am intrigued. This “technique” shows appreciation of the “other” and yet I think it also lacks accountability for one’s self. I have been used to flogging myself for things my entire life and so do not readily let myself off any hook. Therefore, I like layering on the appreciation and will need to consider being able to lay down the other. I invite more dialogue on this. Thanks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.