Anyone who has watched Very British Problems or followed them on Facebook will probably remember the segment on the use of the word ‘sorry’ by us Brits. Seemingly, we can’t get enough of the word and even Adele decided to write a song about it. We use it when we walk into people, and when they walk into us. We apologise for being late, for being on time and for being early. We apologise for the way we look, the way we speak and the way we dress. We don’t even realise we are doing it most of time with the word just slipping out without a second thought. It’s become a national trait recognised by people from around the world and a source of humour.
I’m not here to tell you to stop saying sorry so frequently as, quite frankly, I probably wouldn’t succeed and it would be rather hypocritical when I’m a regular user myself. However, there are some situations where I would urge you to stop and think about your use of the word.
In business, you need to present yourself at your best and the first impression people get of you should always be positive. If the first thing they hear you say is ‘sorry’, it puts a negative in the mind of the listener. Here’s an example: you are standing up to do a sixty second pitch in a networking meeting and the first thing you say is,
“Sorry, this is the first pitch I’ve done.”
It immediately gives a negative impression. The first words out of your mouth should be confident and draw attention for the right reasons. If you really want the audience to know it is your first pitch, tell them at the end,
“Thank you for listening to my very first business pitch.”
but don’t apologise! After all, there’s a first time for everyone so what is it that you are actually apologising for? If you are a legitimate professional, then you have every right to stand up and talk about your business without having to feel the need to apologise. I’m giving you permission here and now not to apologise so practise your pitch, build your confidence and be positive.
A further example might be if you are delivering a presentation to colleagues or external businesses. It’s another situation in which many people feel the need to apologise at the start. Presenters apologise for the quality of the presentation, for technical issues and for their own presentation skills as well as the surroundings such as lighting and seating. Again, I encourage you not to do this at the start because you are drawing attention to things that the audience may not notice or care about and by pointing them out you make it more likely that they will focus on these points. Rather than apologise, try to fix what’s wrong before you start. If the presentation is of poor quality, then improve it. Test it out in similar conditions beforehand or have a couple of versions with different backgrounds to use in different lighting. Of course, you can’t always predict or overcome technical issues but the best thing to do is to have a Plan B in place and move to it swiftly rather than wasting time saying sorry before you have even started.
So, although for most of us sorry isn’t the hardest word, be aware of when you use it in a business situation to ensure that you always give a strong, positive impression. If you do genuinely need to apologise, then do so at the most appropriate time and place unless you’re Adele and then you can pretty much say whatever you like.