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Marketing / Business relationships

Saying sorry: Knowing when to say sorry

Last year I wrote about the importance of apologising when you know you’re in the wrong. By saying sorry, you encourage feelings of goodwill and show you’re responsible for your actions.

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So far so good.

However for this to be of genuine benefit, apologies must be made judiciously. I reckon this not only means saying sorry when it matters, it means not apologising unnecessarily.

The following are examples of unnecessary apologies:

“Sorry I can’t take your call.”

Hands up whose voicemail message starts like this? Thought so. To me this is a classic catchcry of those in the always available trap. Unless you want to give your caller a sense of entitlement and expectation, lose the apology.

Better: “Please leave a message and I will respond within…”

"Unless we’re careful, we can end up saying sorry for our entire existence."

“I’m not the person to help you, I’m sorry.”

We attract a few tangential queries through the site. While I don’t mind pointing misguided folk in the right direction, I don’t need to say sorry for being unable to advise on the likes of tax obligations, childcare grants and legal rights. Do I?!

Want more articles like this? Check out the business relationships section.

Better: “I can’t help, but have you considered addressing your query to…?”

“Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are tricky for me, I’m sorry.”

Better: “Best days for meetings are Mondays and Wednesdays.”

“Sorry to bother you.”

Better: “Is now an okay time to talk for five minutes?”

You may think it’s petty minded to quibble over one little word. But unless we’re careful, we can end up saying sorry for our entire existence.

Practise asking yourself “Am I genuinely sorry?” This kind of mindfulness shows great respect to yourself and your listener.

If you’re worried about sounding impolite, don’t be. I’d say the ‘better’ examples above sound assured, confident and together…not rude.

In the end, it’s about saying what you mean, which as I’ve discussed before is at the heart of being a good communicator.

Have I inspired you to change your voicemail message? Or am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Let me know.

Sam Leader

is a former director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.

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