Saying “sorry” often becomes a habit rather than a necessity. What if we used “thank you” more instead? Jami-Lei investigates further.
There are two uses of the word sorry. One sounds like “sorry for rambling on” and the other goes something like “I’m really sorry for spilling tea on your curtains”. The first is polite and tentative but used way too often. Of course, you should probably apologise for spilling tea on your friend’s curtains, but we could say sorry a lot less than we currently do.
This month I’ve been calling multiple customer service-type phone lines. I always seem to get through to the wrong department and get put on hold while they find someone who can help. I noticed that there are differences between what the automated ‘hold’ person says depending on what company you’re calling. When I call my bank, they play music and then a voice cuts through and says, “We’re currently experiencing higher than usual customer demands. We’re sorry for the wait. Please continue to hold.” However, when I call my network provider to plead with them for more data allowance, the ‘hold’ voice chimes through the music and says “Thank you for waiting. We’ll transfer you to an available member of the team as soon as possible.” What a difference in tone. Both of these messages are essentially saying that everyone’s busy right now and I need to wait to talk to someone, but their choice of words elicits a different response each time. When my bank says sorry, it gives me a reason to complain, because they’ve assumed they’re in the wrong for making me wait. When my network provider thanks me, I feel more inclined to be patient because they’re showing appreciation for it.
When we say sorry for the sake of being polite or not wanting to seem blunt, it creates a power imbalance where we’re giving the other person the right to excuse us for mostly normal behaviour. As I’m writing this I’m thinking back to all the times I’ve apologised for talking too much or being fussy over food and wishing I’d said things like “thank you for listening to me” instead of “sorry I’m talking so much, I just… [insert excuse]”.
It’s time to be grateful instead of apologetic.