Sorry. It’s the one word that may be holding back you and your team from building a stronger culture of workplace gratitude.
Apologies have their place. But you’re probably saying “Sorry” when “Thank You” would be better.
“If you’ve truly done something to hurt or offend someone, an apology is best. But so often the things people apologize for in daily life are ambiguous,” Julie Beck, senior associate editor at The Atlantic, writes in her article “The Power of Casual Gratitude.”
“A ‘sorry’ is a token offered to ward off guilt and to keep others from being irritated with you. But it’s just basic economics that the more of these coins you have in circulation, the less they’re worth,” she writes.
Thanking someone, on the other hand, has an expansive power that “Sorry” doesn’t. Gratitude makes other people feel good. It gets passed on. It starts a chain reaction to happiness.
Learn about the instances of “casual gratitude” — Beck’s term — when “Thank You” is better than “Sorry.” Your increased awareness will naturally encourage others and build up your workplace gratitude culture!
When to Say “Thank You,” Not “Sorry”
Yao Xiao’s webcomic “If You Want to Say Thank You, Don’t Say Sorry” is a great primer on how to rewire your mindset when it comes to unnecessary apologies.
For instance, if you’re running late to an appointment, it’s better to graciously thank someone for their patience instead of breathlessly exclaiming “Sorry I’m always late!”
Thanking is more effective over time “because if you keep apologizing for the same offense over and over, well, you stop seeming sorry,” as Beck puts it.
Yet over-apologizing remains all too common.
“The phenomenon of favoring casual apology over casual gratitude seems prevalent throughout American society, and perhaps beyond. For some, it may be inspired by low self-esteem — thinking everything you do is wrong and needs to be apologized for,” Beck writes.
“Sorry” can in essence reject someone’s nice gesture. If you perform an act of kindness for someone, would you rather be thanked for your thoughtfulness or hear an apology for causing the trouble? The “Thank You” sends a clear message of gratitude, while “Sorry” sends a confusing message that will leave you feeling unappreciated and … sorry.
Workplace gratitude benefits everyone, so it’s vital that you’re not undermining it with casual apologies.
Here are four examples of when “Thank You” works better than “Sorry” in the workplace:
1. “Sorry you had to cover for me again.”
How is the recipient of this statement supposed to respond? “Er, sorry you’re sorry?”
Better: “I know you’ve been putting in extra hours to cover for me and I really appreciate it. Thank you for being there.”
2. “Sorry I’m not making a lot of sense.”
This fits in the category of the “sorry for existing” apology. It puts the listener on the defensive and falsely elicits pity when you’re actually seeking their understanding.
Better: “Thank you for listening to me. Do you have any questions?”
3. “Sorry you had to come in on your day off to fix this.”
“It’s no big deal” will be the likely response, even if it is a big deal. What the employee really wants to hear is your recognition for their sacrifice.
Better: “Thank you for coming in on your day off to fix this. We really appreciate it. Let me get you a cup of coffee while you work.” Then, publicly acknowledge the employee’s above-and-beyond work in the company newsletter, at a weekly staff meeting, etc. Better yet, also share a small gift and a Thank You note from a company leader.
4. “Thank you so much!” (said with the inflection of an apology)
If your appreciation sounds like an apology, you’re undermining the sincerity of your appreciation. It’s valid to feel bad about imposing on someone, but you’re better off communicating your feelings transparently and specifically. Tell the truth of the situation.
Better: “You’re picking up a lot of extra shifts for us during this busy period. We’ve noticed your dedication and willingness to rearrange your schedule. It means a lot to the whole team. Thank you.”
Educate Leadership About the Power of Workplace Gratitude
Leaders set the tone for workplace culture. They’re the ones modeling “Thank You” vs. “Sorry.”
Employees will pick up on leaders who choose sincere casual gratitude over casual apology, so be sure all supervisors and company leaders are well-versed in the power of gratitude — including seemingly insignificant “casual gratitude.”
Want more tips for building workplace gratitude? Download our new eBook, “Put the ‘Thanks’ in Thanksgiving: How to Write a Thanksgiving Letter to Employees.”
Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away. Seize the opportunity to thank employees during this symbolic holiday of gratitude! We’ll show you how to make your Thank You more meaningful — and you don’t have to be a creative writer or devote hours to crafting the perfect note. We share the secrets to writing a thoughtful Thank You note that employees will value and remember.
Why wait? Download your free copy now!
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