When you communicate your words create thoughts and feelings within you and for others. Sometimes the feelings come first then trigger thoughts. Other times thoughts may be prompted followed by feelings. Whatever the order (feelings-thoughts or thoughts-feelings) next comes behavior. If you agree with that assertion you’ll also agree that some of the mindless things you say affect your behavior and the behavior of those who hear your words.
There are certainly times for legitimate, heart felt apologies. However, if you pay close attention to the times you say you’re sorry, or when others do, you’ll realize quite often sorry isn’t necessary. This came to my attention when I watched a Ted Talk from sociologist Maja Jovanovic.
In early childhood parents and others teach us to say we’re sorry for a variety of reasons. Most are legitimate but after that our need to apologize seems to takes on a life of its own. As Jovanovic points out, constant apologizing disempowers you and can lead others to think less of you.
Here is an example. Let’s say you’re on your way to a meeting and a major car accident will cause you to be late. As soon as you realize this you call the person you’re supposed to meet with and say, “I’m sorry, I’m going be late. There’s an accident on the highway and the traffic is at a standstill.” The accident wasn’t your fault which means being late isn’t your fault so why apologize? It would be just as legitimate to say, “I’m calling to let you know I’m going be late because there’s an accident on the highway and the traffic is at a standstill.”
Again, I point this out because apologizing isn’t always necessary and can actually be counterproductive in terms of how people may view you.
This one is a pet peeve of mine. When you ask someone, “How are you?” it’s very common to hear, “Not bad.” You might be thinking, I know what they mean, but do you really? Let’s analyze this phrase just a little.
Does saying “not bad” mean you’re actually doing well? If so, why not say, “I’m doing well. Thanks for asking.” If bad is the standard are you content simply because you’ve avoided the bad state? That’s not the same as doing well. Or how about this one, “Not too bad.” You could be doing bad but as long as you’re not doing too bad you’re okay. Really?
You might think this is knit picking but it’s important. Doesn’t it make you feel different – in a good way – when someone answers you with “Doing well” or “Things are great” or “Fantastic”? Remember, your words create thoughts and feelings which lead to actions.
Recall a time when someone did something you appreciated. It’s likely you said, “Thank you.” I bet you’ve heard the response “No problem” more times than you can count. If someone is paid to help you – restaurant server, customer service, salesperson, etc. – do you really care if it was a problem for them to help you? It’s their job and jobs are created to help people solve problems!
When someone thanks you for helping them any of the following responses are much better:
- Thank you, it’s nice to be appreciated.
- You’re welcome. We’re here to help.
- I enjoy helping people so it was my pleasure.
Those are just a few potential responses to a heartfelt thank you. I’m sure you can come up with many more if you take a moment to think about it. Any of those phrases will leave someone feeling better about their experience than “no problem.”
Having just read this you might begin to notice some of these phrases in your communication. Or, you may notice other words and phrases that don’t serve you or others well. That’s great! Habits are hard to break and it begins with awareness. When you catch yourself don’t get down, be thankful for your awareness. The next step is to begin using words and phrases that will create the kinds of thoughts, feelings and actions in others that you’d like to see.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker and trainer, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini. Brian’s LinkedIn Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed by almost 55,000 people! Persuasive Coaching went live earlier this year and Creating a Coaching Culture will be online in the second quarter. Have you watched these courses yet? Click a link to see what you’ve been missing.