August, 2020

How Replacing “I’m Sorry” with “Thank You” Can Change Your Life

Imagine two people arriving late for an appointment. One says, “Sorry I’m late,” while the other says “Thank you for your patience.” How do you respond? How is it different?

Apologizing to someone shows your humility while thanking someone shows your appreciation. You could be put in the exact same situation and choose one of these two routes to take. Yao Xiao’s cartoons show that people tend to be overly apologetic when they really mean to be thankful instead.

“A few friends of mine would always say ‘thank you for hanging out with me’ and I couldn’t figure out why it was so nice to hear it,” Yao explains. The act of thanking something uplifts the person doing the thanking as well as the person being thanked. In comparison, the act of apologizing simply puts the apologizer in an inferior position. An outcome neither person really wants.

Yao highlights that there are of course times when saying “I’m sorry” is necessary but she shows how more often than not people will apologize when they mean to thank a person. And it makes the biggest difference.

Understanding this can have many positive benefits in your work and professional life. A hospitality clerk explains that when dealing with difficult customers she was taught to replace “Sorry that your cabinet is broken” with “Thank you for recognizing that the cabinet is broken and taking the time to let us know. We will fix it right away.” She explains that when you say “sorry” it only fuels a difficult customer’s anger and makes them want to complain to her more. In comparison, thanking them forces them to still keep you in a high regard while still validating their negative experience.

We are not saying for you to tell your spouse “thank you for recognizing that I’m cheating” by any means but we do agree with Yao that people apologize for things they shouldn’t. Apologize when you hurt someone, otherwise thank them instead. You’ll feel better and they will too.


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