As a speech-language pathologist who has the privilege to work with school-aged students, I’m consistently thinking about the words that my students use. Are the words that they are choosing to use effectively communicating what they want to communicate? Or are there any other words that they could be using that might be more effective than their current word choices? Questions like these are the internal bits of dialogue that fill my “speechie” brain on a daily basis.
Thoughts on using the word ‘sorry.’
It’s not too uncommon for students of mine to apologize to me and tell me that they’re sorry about something. One boy might say, “I’m sorry I was late for speech today.” Or another girl might say, “I’m sorry what I’m saying right now makes no sense.” While I appreciate their politeness, I can’t help but wonder if we, as a society, have conditioned our youth to say the word ‘sorry’ way more than they actually should? What if there was an alternative that could be explored?
‘Sorry’ vs. ‘thank you’
Every now and again, I’ll come across a blog post on the Internet that resonates with me in a big way. It’ll be just SO good that I automatically keep on reading it a second, third, or maybe even a forth time. In the instances that this has happened to me, it always feels as if I’ve hit the lottery because in my heart I believe I’ve stumbled upon a priceless gem. The most recent piece of literary treasure that I’ve fallen in love with is the post titled “Stop Saying “Sorry” And Say “Thank You” Instead” which appeared on BoredPanda.com not too long ago. It highlights a recent work of art by the New York City-based illustrator Yao Xiao. The artist created a thought-provoking comic that features side-by-side tiled examples on how to spin your negative “I’m sorry”communication to more positive “thank you” communication.
‘Thank you’ in place of ‘I’m sorry’
After studying and thinking about Yao Xiao’s comic for the last few weeks, I’ve come to the realization that not only do some of my students say “I’m sorry” too much, but that I’m also just as guilty. So I’ve made the personal decision to think about how I can change some of my own “sorrys” to “thank yous.” Making this small change in my expressive communication has been one heck of a positive experience.
A couple of days ago, I had to write an important email to a colleague. With email, I always try to make the messages as short as possible because I know that we’re all quite busy. But with this particular email, it was impossible to keep short. I needed to write a lot of details because all of those details were vital to the message. And here’s the interesting part, once I got to the end of the message, I caught myself typing out,“I’m so sorry that this email was this long.” Then it hit me like a bag of bowling balls – why was I apologizing?! For that particular communication intent to be effective, it had to be long. If I kept it short, the email would have not communicated what it was intended to communicate. Thus, I would have executed ineffective communication, which is a huge no-no for an SLP.
Tweaking my sentence, ever so slightly.
Instead of belittling myself with saying, “I’m so sorry that this email was this long,” I tweaked the sentence to say, “I really appreciate your willingness to read this email.” I chose to appreciate the reader’s positive behavior instead of saying sorry for my own self-perceived shortcoming. That was big. And that’s something I think we, as SLPs, could (and should) teach students on our caseloads, whether it be through indirect means, or more direct ones.
Encouraging students to analyze.
In no way am I shouting from the rooftops that our students should never say, “I’m sorry” at any point throughout their day. No way. Not even close. There’s tons and tons of legitimate situations that our students will find themselves in where a sincere apology is absolutely appropriate. The kiddo on your caseload who made the choice to throw his slice of pizza at the substitute teacher; yup, he BETTER apologize for that. And it better be a sincere apology because pizza is for eating, NOT for throwing. But when a student says to me, “I’m sorry I was late for speech today.” Or, “I’m sorry what I’m saying right now makes no sense.” I’m not so sure those are situations where an apology is truly necessary.
In the “I’m sorry I was late for speech today” example (he’s a private client where I come to his house for speech therapy once a week for an hour), it wasn’t his fault he was late. There was construction going on around town and that caused his mom to have to take a detour home while I was waiting in my car for them. So he would have been better suited to say, “Thanks so much for waiting for me, Mr. Raj!” And for the “I’m sorry what I’m saying right now makes no sense” example, she was actually wrong because what she was saying DID make perfect sense to me. So she would have been better suited to say,“Thanks for listening to my story and if you need any clarification, please just ask.”
In closing . . .
There are many situations where all of us apologize for situations that are either beyond our control or just not true. When we allow ourselves to do that over and over again, we are inadvertently planting little seeds of negativity in our minds. So the next time you and/or your student says, “I’m sorry” about something, try to analyze it to see if maybe it makes more sense to turn it into a more positive, “thank you” comment. The more we do this, the better our communication can become. Wouldn’t you agree?