Why You Should Say ‘Sorry’ at Work

When said with sincerity, this five-letter word can solve more than a few sticky workplace situations.

Once again while running a course recently, I was the one who learned something new while trying to teach something old.

The old in this case is using a version of ‘sorry’ at work in order to soften what comes out of your mouth next:

I’m sorry to bother you (you need a co-worker to do something for you)

I’m sorry, but I really need to have your report by the end of the day (your boss to you)

Sorry, could I jump in here? (at a meeting when you want to give your opinion)

Some people nodded after I’d explained this point, but to my surprise others really had a problem with it.

Why, they asked, should I say this when I’m not truly sorry?  Why, when I haven’t done anything wrong? What do I have to be sorry about?

It turned out they were directly translating ‘å beklage’ from Norwegian, which is quite simply ‘to apologize’. My doubters told me this is a ‘strong verb’ that is only in situations when the speaker is asking someone else for forgiveness. Heavy stuff. So the above phrases and others like them sounded strange, or even worse, phony, and they weren’t sure if they’d be able to use them at their international workplaces (where the working language is English).

At this point, I needed to turn from being mere teacher to motivating coach – Yes, you can do this! In fact, you must do this! Think of the word ‘sorry’ as a watered down version of ‘beklage’ and it might just help.

But key to it all is how you say it – you must use a tone of voice that shows you’re sincere, as only then will it have the desired effect on your listener. What is the desired effect? That you’re showing respect for the other person through using this little word, even if you’re trying to get something you want or need.

Showing – not just having – respect for our colleagues in the workplace is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

I learned that a five-letter word I’d taken for granted as a necessary communication tool at work wasn’t necessarily that for others, and with good reason. Direct translations into English don’t always work – but when used in the right situation in the right tone of voice, this little word can work just fine.

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