Shirley's Articles / Communication Skills and Building Relationships
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
Well, Elton John certainly got that right. “Sorry” seems to be the hardest word for many people. In fact, it seems more difficult in some parts of the world than others. It’s something that has bothered me for the longest time. So much so, especially recently, that I have to put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – and write this rant (aka blog post).
Ever since I’ve lived here, I’ve always struggled with the way so many people have difficulty saying “Sorry”. Here are some examples that I’ve encountered just recently:
1. In a café
Me: Can I get a new glass please? This one is dirty.
Waitress: I’ll get you a new one.
(or worse still, nothing at all, but he just changed the glass)
2. In a restaurant
Me: I’d like the salmon please.
Waiter: There’s no more salmon today.
3. In a shoe store
Me: Do you have these shoes in a size 41?
Assistant: Size 39 is the biggest.
Why can’t they say, “I’m sorry …”?
This is the question I’ve wondered about so many times. I’m consistently told it’s because the person believes that saying “sorry” indicates they have personally done something wrong.
Can we please get this right!
Saying, “I’m sorry” when my glass is dirty is the right thing to say. What you are saying is, “I’m sorry this happened.” Or “I’m sorry you got a dirty glass.” You are not saying, “I’m sorry that I didn’t wash the glass properly, and it’s my fault.”
Saying, “I’m sorry” when there’s no more salmon left, would mean you’re showing regret or sadness about something. You are not saying that you’re responsible for there being no salmon.
Here are two more examples:
1. Speaking with a friend
Friend: You’re limping. What’s wrong?
Me: I just tripped over and fell. My knee really hurts.
Friend: Aiyah! Why are you so careless?
2. To a colleague
Me: I was so sick at the weekend with a bad migraine.
Colleague: Good job it was weekend and you could rest.
Why oh why can’t these people just say, “I’m sorry”?
Saying, “I’m sorry” wouldn’t mean you were responsible for my fall. It would mean you were feeling compassion for me.
Saying, “I’m sorry” wouldn’t mean you were the cause of my migraine. It would mean you were feeling concern for me.
And this one takes the cake…
Here’s what happened when I wrote to a client who was overdue in paying our invoice, and not for the first time. Here are extracts from her reply:
Unfortunately, there are processes involved that are beyond my control.
I will expedite where possible during these changes.
Your understanding would be much appreciated.
Do you see the problem here? “Unfortunately” seems to mean, “Too bad”. If she had said, “I’m sorry about this”, it would mean, “I care”.
If the writer had just once in this whole series of emails said, “I’m so sorry about this”, it would really have shown me that she understands what I’m going through and is feeling concern and compassion for my situation. It would also have assured me that she cared. As a result, I would have felt better, despite the delays.
Sorry doesn’t have to be the hardest word!
Parents: Please teach your children about the importance of the word, “sorry”, and its many meanings. Also teach them about the implications of saying the word, and not saying the word.
Employers: Please make sure your employees are trained in the importance of the word, “sorry”, and how it should be used in customer service. And of course the implications of saying it and not saying it.
Let’s not continue letting “Sorry” be the hardest word to say. Let’s work together and make “sorry” a very much easier word to say! Let’s make it the right word to say!
What do you say? I’d love your comments and thoughts about the use of “sorry” in your part of the world. Plus any examples of when you have heard, or not heard, the word, “sorry” recently.
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Shirley is an international bestselling author. She has established herself as a leading authority in email and business writing skills. Her international bestseller Model Business Letters, Emails & Other Business Documents 7th edition sold over half a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 17 languages. Her book Email Essentials reached #2 in the USA for publishers Marshall Cavendish International. Find out more about Shirley at shirleytaylor.com.