When to Say “I’m sorry” and When to Say “Thank you”

When to Say “I’m sorry” and When to Say “Thank you”

How many times a day do you say “I’m sorry“? And, how much do you think about what you really mean when you say it? Saying ‘sorry’ has become so automatic these days that it’s often said and received with such little weight.

We apologize to acknowledge we’ve done something wrong even though no ill will was meant by it— we’ve simply caused someone else displeasure. We may even say it without completely meaning it to diffuse an argument or conflict.

Saying “I’m sorry” is important and does come into play in our daily lives. For instance, when we bump into someone or when we want to express genuine regret for a mistake.

Yet, in other situations, there is a better way to express an apology that will allow both you and the other person to feel better. In these moments we can use “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry”. A good rule of thumb is to use an apology when it’s really merited and to express gratitude or appreciation at other times.

For instance, when showing up late to meet a friend, we often quickly say, “”I’m sorry for being late,” but does this really make up for it? It may fulfill our own need for absolution when the other person says “it’s ok,” yet it doesn’t really make the other person feel any better.

Instead try saying, “thank you for waiting for me.” This better acknowledges that the other person not only showed up on time but then spent their valuable time waiting for you. By expressing appreciation this makes it about the other person’s considerate actions.

When we switch from apologizing to expressing gratitude, we increase warmth and positive feelings, allowing us to connect deeper to the person on the receiving end. It may also help to increase our own self-confidence.

If we are always apologizing for small mistakes or errors, we may feel we are less than. For example, if a co-worker catches a mistake in a draft at work, we might have the urge to say “I’m sorry,” yet this isn’t really a situation where an apology is appropriate. We are human, we all make mistakes! Instead, we can try saying “thanks for reviewing and catching that mistake” or simply “thanks, great catch.” This acknowledges the other person’s attention to detail and the time they spent reviewing your work.

Another time where we can express gratitude is with our friends and family after they’ve helped us through a problem. We’ve all had that moment where we feel we’ve spent the afternoon talking someone’s ear off about our own lives. We often say, “sorry for going on and on” or “sorry for venting all afternoon.” We aren’t really sorry for discussing our problems, but we may feel badly that the conversation has been one sided. By recognizing the other person’s feelings and acknowledging them, you are praising the act they did.

Saying “I’m sorry” comes very easily to many people. While we may genuinely mean it and it seems like the correct and polite phrase to use, showing appreciation can be that much more powerful. So next time you find yourself in a situation of apology, remember the power of saying “thank you.”

Authored by: Jennifer Jamgochian, LMSW