A colleague of mine, Bryant Galindo, recently wrote about a very interesting technique he uses when counseling professionals and entrepreneurs through his consulting firm, Collabs HQ. Bryant had a client who would say “I’m sorry” whenever she received feedback, even when that feedback was constructive. He encouraged her to say “thank you” instead... and that little shift in perspective dramatically improved her ability to collaborate.
So of course when I read Bryant's story, I immediately thought about how this technique might be useful outside of the workplace too. Could this be helpful at home with our families, friends, and our loved ones? Think about it... How often do we say “I’m sorry” when there is really nothing to apologize for? I wanted to learn more so that I could share this tidbit of wisdom with my clients (and use it myself!). I am grateful to Bryant for finding a few minutes in his busy schedule to catch up with an old friend and talk about apologies vs. gratitude.
You are probably wondering why apologizing is a bad thing. I know I was. I mean, isn’t is simply polite to say you are sorry? And the answer is maybe. Sometimes. According to Bryant, apologizing “can be problematic when a person just unconsciously engages in the behavior without actually needing to apologize.” There will be times when an apology is warranted. But when it isn’t, apologizing closes you off to hearing what the other person is saying.
Think of it this way. Saying “I’m sorry” shuts the door. Saying “thank you” throws the door wide open.
Open is good! Open means you are taking it in and processing the information you are hearing. Then it’s up to you what you do with that information. Using gratitude doesn’t mean you have to agree with the feedback. It isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the opposite. Bryant says that a shift to gratitude “empowers the person to acknowledge the situation as is.” More than that, it will make your sincere apologies more impactful!
So how does this translate into real life? Imagine you are with your aging parent, and they critique something you are doing. Before spitting out a quick “sorry” and moving on, try gratitude instead. "Thank you for that feedback, Mom." Maybe follow it up with another question. Remember, that door is wide open now. Walk on through! "What about your way of doing this works better for you?” Now you are not only listening to the feedback, you are learning something new about each other and how to negotiate a changing dynamic between parent and child.
By using gratitude instead, you’ve made space for more conversation. Maybe it will help. Maybe it won’t. But gratitude allows you to stay open to the possibilities and keeps that good communication flowing.