I don’t recall where I read it, but it was a recent interview with a business thought leader. When asked, “What is the one thing you would change about Americans?” she said it makes her crazy that we say “sorry.”
At first I didn’t get what she meant. And then I started noticing how often “sorry” is said.
You might bump into someone or walk around them and say “sorry.” Back in the old days, we might’ve said “excuse me” or “pardon me.” In Spanish you would say “con permiso” (with permission may I pass?). But now we’ve become an apologetic society that says “sorry”—not even I’m sorry—for almost everything. If you think I’m crazy, spend the next few days noticing how often you say it or people say it to you.
It’s actually not a very sincere thing to say, because, frankly, much of the time we’re not sorry. We just want people to move. Or we want something. One of the most ridiculous ways it is used happens when you are ordering food at a restaurant or asking for assistance at a store. We consumers start our conversation with an apology. Next time, instead of saying “sorry” think about saying, “Thank you for your help. I would like …”or “Excuse me, I’m looking for some assistance.”
I will say, it may be difficult to make the change to remove the word “sorry” from your vocabulary. First you have to notice it. And then you have to make a very real, conscious effort to not use the word. I’ve tried, and it’s hard.
But I think it’s worth it—because starting a conversation or interaction with “sorry” doesn’t seem very positive, polite or engaging. It’s kind of lazy. So, my challenge to myself—and to you—is to avoid using that word. Unless of course you ARE sorry, and then you should say “I am sorry.”
Since we’re considering phrases that really don’t make sense, also think about the phrase “no problem.”
You go to a restaurant, to a store or interact with a friend and you ask for something, and their answer is “no problem.” If you think about it, it’s not a really sincere response. It’s actually kind of negative, as you are using two words that are not positive: “no” and “problem.”
This is another one of those phrases that we Americans have created. By giving an answer of “no problem,” we imply that the person’s request is easy to solve or resolve. To me it’s kind of a trite, insincere answer.
Because, frankly, most of the time they don’t resolve my issue. It’s like a brush off.
A friend recently pointed out the phrase “no problem” to me, and I immediately reacted by telling him that I never or rarely say that. Boy was I wrong.
Because I am trying hard NOT to say either phrase (my own personal experiment in human behavior), I catch myself daily, and sometimes multiple times a day, saying “no problem.” As I catch myself, I take a breath and smoothly insert the phrase, “my pleasure” or “that would be my pleasure” or “I am happy to help.”
But it takes discipline.
And why am I doing this? Because I think there is an opportunity for me to be more thoughtful. More engaging. More sincere. To stand out.
Now, when someone makes a request to me, instead of saying “no problem” I say, “my pleasure.” It sounds kinder just reading it, don’t you think?
Come to think about it, this kind of reminds me of when we used to say another over-used phrase, “Have a nice day!”
Think about it!