we stopped saying "sorry" and this happened
Working as team of three has taught us so many things about our personalities, work style, habits, and ticks. Something we immediately recognized in all of us was our tendency to over-apologize.
Something gets misunderstood. I'm sorry.
Something takes an unexpected turn. I'm sorry.
Something wasn't absolutely perfect right out the gate. I'm sorry.
We filled space in conversation with our apologies when there was absolutely no freaking need, so we decided to stop the sorries for one week. Here's what happened:
I don't think any of us realized how many apologies we offered in a day until we had to stop doing it. And I also don't think anything could have been better for us.
Julia Child said, "No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." And while we aren't always cooking, I think there's really something to this idea.
Most of the time when I found myself starting to apologize over the last few weeks, I realized that whatever led to it was almost always well-intentioned. Much like cooking, if I do say so myself. When my instinct was to apologize, I really hadn't done anything wrong.
I said sorry to avoid awkward silence. I said it when I made human mistakes. I said it when I felt like I was asking for a little too much. I said it when things were a little weird and someone had to say something so I figured it may as well be me.
Of course, I'll still apologize if I'm wrong (which is way harder than saying it when I've done absolutely nothing, I might add) but more often than not, that's not what my sorries are used for.
So what then? What do we do about this incessant (and unnecessary) apologizing?
For starters, we caught ourselves and stopped A LOT. Because all three of us were working on this at once, it was really glaring when someone slipped up. There were so many apologies that were completely unnecessary. We shifted to slapping our foreheads and then using emoji combos that looked sorry but didn't explicitly say it.
And then we started saying 'thank you' instead.
"Thanks for accommodating me."
"Thanks for handling that, I totally forgot."
And while I doubt any of us are reformed apologizers, we're definitely more self-aware. We're realizing that we don't need to apologize that we have needs or wants or questions. We don't need to apologize just because we exist. And I think that lesson is worth all the forehead slapping in the world.
I knew that defaulted to "I'm sorry" a lot, but like Rachel said, I didn't realize just how much I was leaning on it. I'm sorry is not very precise language, it is a catchall for a lot of things. I quickly figured out that some of my offending instances could easily be replaced with "excuse me," so I made concerted effort to start making that simple swap. Instead of staying, "I'm sorry," when my father-in-law and I awkwardly fumbled around each other coming in and out of a doorway, I politely said, "Oops, pardon me."
Another simple switch I learned to make was "Thank you for understanding." I found this one was really great for those times when you REALLY wanted to say sorry because, you did feel bad about something, but that something was totally out of your control. For example, one evening while we were visiting with my in-laws, I had to work through dinner. Rush requests and urgent deadlines were flooding in that day, and even by dinner, I was still finalizing many of my assignments. So I made a plate and ate it in the office while I worked, and the rest of the family had dinner together. I felt terrible (and rude) for doing this, but I knew that I did not have control over unexpected things coming up for work, and most importantly I knew my family would understand—so I didn't say sorry. But gosh, I really wanted to. I felt sick not apologizing. But instead, I said, "Today was nuts. I'm bummed I missed out on family dinner time, but thank you all for understanding." I then I wanted to throw up a little less.
This exercise was hard, but it has made me so much more cognizant of my precision of language and made me think a lot harder about exactly what it is that I want to say to someone. I realize now how important it is to know when you truly should say "I'm sorry" and when you are just using it to fill a void.
Sorry is such a powerful word and it should be used with the utmost intent.
Halfway through day #1 of the sorry train. I realized just how much of a habit this was for me. Once I started to pay attention to the frequency of this little word, I became instantly aware of all the totally unnecessary places I used what we can now lovingly refer to as "the s-word."
I started nearly every email I wrote with, "sorry for the delay" or "sorry this took me a bit." I apologized for taking up people's time. I apologized for asking questions. I apologized for drawing attention to someone else's errors. I apologized for requesting what I needed to do my job. I apologized for thinking outside the box. I apologized for being a freaking human with flaws and bad days and emotions and needs.
I'd love to say I uttered my last apology a week ago, but that would surely be a lie. I am certain I am going to continue to say sorry when I shouldn't, when I don't mean it, and when it is absolutely bonkers to say. However, you bet I am going to consciously make an effort to cut back.
I've experienced the power that comes from not saying sorry in the moments where I know I'm not freaking sorry. I've felt the rush that comes from not apologizing for being unavailable, busy, disappointed, or honest about the moments that make up my work or personal life. I truly hope every sorry-aholic can take one week to experience this process. It was such a small commitment, but it packed a mighty, mighty punch to the gut.
Here's to saving those sorries for when we are truly sorry and not hiding behind that little 5-letter word.