Sorry, did you mean to say, ‘thank you’? Three reasons why gratitude is mightier than an apology

About the Author: Ashley Thomson
Ashley Thomson

thank you cloudVery few of us seem to find the right balance when it comes to apologising. Occasionally I’m faced with a small business owner for whom summoning an apology is like coaxing the last bit of Heinz Big Red out of the sauce bottle (much to the detriment of their customer relationships).

Far more common, however, is the opposite predicament; some of my coaching clients can’t stop apologising. They beg forgiveness for others’ mistakes, they say sorry for taking up people’s time, they apologise to a table they’ve bumped into.

A few years ago, I came across an idea that acts as a handy shortcut away from this habit. The genius insight was this: often when we say “sorry”, what we really mean is “thank you”. It’s a simple but very powerful change. There are three good reasons why I mentor my Tenfold clients to make the switch:

Over-apologising creates doubt in your abilities
Saying sorry all the time can negatively impact the dynamic of your relationship with your customers and clients. It is preferable to maintain a mutual respect and equal position between buyer and seller. Your small business’s products or services have been chosen either for their quality or your personal expertise.  Over-apologising projects a lack of confidence and could make your customers feel nervous about their selection. It also gives them undue dominance in the relationship, affecting your negotiating power.

It shifts the emphasis from self-deprecation to appreciation

Saying ‘thank you’ means that you are giving something (gratitude) instead of asking for something (forgiveness). It also makes people feel good about themselves, rather than focusing on the negative. Let’s look at some common scenarios:

  • You are late for a client business meeting
    Consider the difference between “Sorry I’m late” and “Thank you for your patience”. The first option focuses on your lateness (which, let’s face it, they were already aware of), while the second focuses on your appreciation of their good qualities (in this case, patience).


  • Someone points out a mistake you have made
    Thanking your colleague, client or supplier and praising them for their keen eye in spotting your error will go over a lot better than a cascade of “sorry”s and hurried justifications. Taking criticism well is the hallmark of a resilient leader.
  • When assigning work to your team members
    Strong leaders are essential to effective team dynamics. It important that your staff respect you. Apologising to your team for giving them work to do can frame their tasks as an impost. You could find that they start dragging their heels on deadlines, turning up late or taking extra breaks. When you are forced to don the ‘boss’ hat, they may even seem annoyed. Instead, show positive leadership by saying ‘Thanks for taking care of this’. This shows that you have confidence in their ability and appreciate their contribution to the team.

It makes your apologies more genuine when you do offer them
There will be times when you really do need to apologise. When the time comes, it would be best if people felt you really meant it – which will not be the case if your apologies are too easy to come by. Don’t use ‘I’m sorry’ as a filler phrase. Only apologise when you really mean it.

Sorry, not sorry
Too often, we equate being ‘sorry’ with being a ‘good person’. This isn’t the case and it certainly won’t help you lead your team or build customer confidence in your business. Practice being mindful about when you apologise and swap it out for “thank you” whenever you can. Pretty soon, it will become second nature and your leadership cred will benefit.


Image credit:
By Ashashyou [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons