Don’t let weak word choices undermine your meaning.

Hi, I’m Judi Culp. I have a question for you.

How often do you say, I’m sorry.

Most of us use it way too often so that it’s lost its meaning and doesn’t really say what we were trying to express. Let me tell you a story.

I have a dear friend that lived in paradise, California. You might remember. Paradise was the town that got wiped out by the worst, most horrific wildfire in California history. She and her mom were trying to collect their pets and rescue them so that they wouldn’t die in the fire. In the process, time slipped away. They didn’t get out as quickly as they should have. By the time they headed toward town, the smoke was dark. Black, acrid and billowing. They could see the fire moving toward them. It had to be terrifying.
They encountered roads engulfed in flames. People were fleeing on foot through the flames trying to escape. It was a little bit beyond that for them, so they turned around dashed back into town and into the strongest building they could find. It was stone with steel doors and all they could do was pray It would hold out during the fire. They and about 25 others huddled in their refuge. With the fire roaring, the power went out and then communications went out, cell phones died. Towers were down and it was black, but the fire screamed outside.
I went to look on Facebook trying to see if I can find some news about my friend. There wasn’t anything there, but there were posts from other people who like I were concerned about her. Some of them had really heartfelt feelings and many others said, I’m sorry, they didn’t know what else to say. Words can undermine our intent in what we’re trying to express and it doesn’t just happen in personal emotional situations. It can happen in our work context or even what we write.
So for example, if you were in a meeting and someone arrives late. What happens? Everybody scoots over and who apologizes. The people that are scooting over do. They weren’t late for the meeting. Better to not say anything. Just shift and let that person bear the responsibility.
Why me? Why do you want to hear this from me? I’ve worked in the SPA and wellness and service industry for over 25 years. I’ve been a teacher, a writer, and a mentor. I want to help you get off autopilot and whether it’s in words or copy, make your meaning, reflect what’s coming from your heart.
If you want to commiserate with someone… Maybe you have a client that comes in late because they were fighting traffic. Don’t apologize. Maybe something more like, I know that frustration. I’ve out there driving around too. It’s really nasty. Leave it at that.
Maybe you’re looking for a filler. Something with a project is going wrong. Somebody’s not giving you the feedback you expected. Maybe they’re wandering off track. Stop, pause and say something more like, hmm, maybe we should get some more input on that. Let’s schedule a meeting.
If you’re trying to add input in a meeting, don’t apologize instead… Those are great ideas. I have one I’d like to add or what do you think of this? I’d like to get your input.
Maybe you’re just trying to keep the peace. When you can see that there’s no common ground, don’t apologize for it. Maybe pause, reflect, get a smile on your face to lighten the atmosphere and say something like, maybe we should just agree to disagree on this and let’s change the topic. Then make your exits.
If you made a mistake, it’s the professional grownup thing to do to admit it, but it doesn’t mean you have to say, I’m sorry. All you have to do is own up. Oops, my mistake. Let me take care of that or I’ll fix it.
If you are writing something, you want to make sure your words really connect with your reader, sharing the message that’s from your heart. When I saw the posts on Paradise, California, I saw images like this…[holds up a picture of Paradise fire,]
I’m sorry, doesn’t begin to cover fire racing down to engulf, your homes. It doesn’t cover this [another image]. The devastation of over 17,000 buildings leaving people dead and homeless in Paradise, which wasn’t much of a paradise anymore.
I went to my Facebook friend page and I posted with tears in my eyes. I can’t even wrap my head around this. I cannot imagine what you went through and what you’re going through now. Yes, she and her mother survived. They had absolutely nothing.
I’ll tell you what happened to the next, next week. In the meantime, think about your message. Let it come from your heart. And… Let there be no mistake of your meeting. Bye.