While many feel it is contributing, humble and useful to say “I’m sorry,” as well as “I can help you,” these statements can be distracting and even annoying, especially when you’re not at fault or when someone is not actually seeking help.
While there are occasions of regret and instances where help is appropriate, it is both our timing and our words that can create miscommunication and, therefore, missteps.
For example, apologizing for a happening that you have little or no control over such as walking in front of someone by mistake, sneezing, getting bumped into by someone else, being interrupted, having a better idea that someone else, and others, will likely make people think less of you as a person and a professional. Plus, if you spend an “I’m sorry” on something small, or out of your control, those words will lessen the impact of a true, warranted ask of forgiveness. You can imagine that if you say “I’m sorry” for every bump in the road, your apologies will carry very little weight and yet will weigh down the impression others have of you.
What to do instead?
If, and only, when you have made an error, replace the start of your conversation, or declaration, with “Please forgive me for …” This change does a few things in so few words. It’s an admission in the form of asking, seeking collaboration by not being a declaration and opens conversation without the other person feeling or sensing they must let you off the hook. Similarly, if you are late or went to the wrong location, instead of saying “I’m sorry I am late,” replace that with gratitude in the form of “Thank you for waiting,” or “Thanks for your understanding as I maneuvered through traffic.”
Both of these approaches keep your self-esteem high, honors the other person’s time and keeps the rapport on even ground.
Now, let’s talk help. It’s good to ask for help. We all have times where help is useful, and important, to seek. So, what is offputting about offering help? Well, not everyone wants your help, and again, timing and words impact how the offer, or insertion, is received.
Much like most people do not wake up in the morning wanting to be trained, many of us don’t go around thinking we hope someone offers help, as it can be a feeling of weakness.
There’s a solution (or two) for you to connect with others without implying they cannot do something on their own or that you are needed to rescue them.
By replacing “I can help you,” with asking “How may I assist you?” gives the person you are approaching a choice, similarly “May I be of service here?” or “May I be of service to you?” creates conversation opportunities for exploration. These all work well personally, and professionally, as they are not infringements, rather options, and there is not a positioning, rather a proposal to move forward.
Tweaking language from “I’m sorry,” to “Please forgive me,” or “Thanks for waiting,” along with adjusting, “I can help you,” to “How may I assist you?” or “How may I be of service?” can be small adjustments to your desire to be involved with big impacts on how others receive that desire.
Debbie Lundberg is the founder and CEO of Presenting Powerfully. She is an 11-time published author, certified virtual presenter, certified life coach, certified leadership coach and certified image consultant.
Lundberg is a performance coach who co-hosts The Business of Life Master Class podcast. Her 2020 book, Remote Work Rockstar, has become a guide for working and leading virtually.