Emails: Saying sorry

Let me start by saying, either you have strong feelings about this, or you don’t.

Between my face-to-face trainings and my online courses, I teach thousands of people each year to write better, more effective emails.

And the discussions around apologies and saying sorry are, well… rigorous!

Emails: Saying sorry - a meme on preferred forms of workplace communication

If you’re one of those people who has a strong position on simply never saying sorry, you might want to stop reading because SPOILER ALERT:

This post is about how and why I believe you should.

Saying sorry is a bigger philosophical discussion than just in terms of writing

I just want to acknowledge that, and let you know this post is about using the word sorry in your emails. That larger philosophical discussion needs to happen somewhere else, and your company’s lawyers might want to weigh in on it.

I guess there’s some belief that saying sorry is somehow admitting legal responsibility or culpability. I can’t credibly speak to that, but I can say that if there’s legal risk in saying sorry, I can live with it. Out of the millions of times in my life I’ve used the word sorry, there’s a high percentage of times when it helped me reach a good outcome, and absolutely zero times I’ve got myself into legal hot water. I’m happy to continue carrying that level of risk.

Using SORRY when apologising by email

Emails: Saying sorry - a meme "I really do apologize...for not being sorry"

It’s pretty simple. Read these out loud:

I apologise for XYZ.

I’m really sorry for XYZ.

Now I’m not asking you to read those out loud with your writer switch turned on and ask yourself which one sounds more “professional” when you imagine yourself writing it.

I’m asking you to read it out loud as a reader.

As the receiver of that message. Hear it.

I apologise for XYZ.

I’m really sorry for XYZ.

The natural, conversational voice is FAR MORE LIKELY to sound genuine. And trust me – if you’re genuinely apologising, you do NOT want to leave any room for your reader to wonder if you really mean it.

We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.   #killmenow

We know this was really inconvenient. We’re sorry.   #boombaby

Put simply, if you need to apologise in writing, you should use the word SORRY. It’s helpful.

Emails: Saying sorry - Plain Language micdrop image.  The formal business voice removes the humanity in our communications.  It's practically impossible to sound human and genuine in a formal business written voice.

Using SORRY as a conversational word in your emails

There’s a school of thought that says people (especially women) should have stronger, more assertive (more ‘traditionally masculine’?) voices in the workplace, and so they shouldn’t soften with words like just and sorry.

I’m not one of those.

I believe my feminine energy is my power. I use that.

(And holy fuck if you read that and equate feminine energy and power with sexuality and assume I’m promoting women using sexuality as leverage, you and me need to TALK. Plus, I just wrote you and me, not you and I. Ahuh.)

Emails: Saying sorry - Words have power.  You have power.

And so if I consciously CHOOSE to soften my messages, as a diplomatic and strategic and generous way of achieving an outcome, I will. (Fuck you.)

Empathy is one of my superpowers (didn’t you feel it oozing out through that fuck you just then?).

I can put myself in someone else’s shoes and imagine how it would feel to receive that message with the sorry, and again without the sorry. If I believe the sorry is going to feel better for them, I’m likely to use it.

Quote: Being readercentric (AKA empathy), puts us in the shoes of our readers - Shelly Davies

So, after all my rants, so what?

So this:

Fuck the words –

  • apologies
  • apologise
  • sincerely
  • endeavour

If you need to apologise in writing, use the words you’d say out loud.

If you have to apologise face to face in the media, don’t read a written apology. Those are shite.

Trust that things you would say to people’s faces will translate best into the written word.


Emails: I'm sorry - Trust that the things you would say to people's faces will translate best into the written word



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Emails: Saying sorry - Write Better Emails - a never-fail formula to apply to every kind of email - an online course

Mānuka as a metaphor for life

Shelly's home land on Great Barrier Island NZ - surrounded by hundreds of tall mānuka trees

I was sitting on my deck listening to cicadas and watching the mānuka swaying in the breeze.

Some of these trees have been here since before I was born.

Others I’ve watched spring from the earth and climb high, high, high until they’re taller than me.

Many of them are about 8 metres tall.

As a child I walked under them behind my Nana along a winding track to the waterhole my house is now beside.

Now I can sit on my deck and watch them.

Swaying in the breeze.

I’ve watched them hurled side to side in cyclone winds.

And still they stand.

After 50 years or more.

Aotea – Great Barrier Island NZ

Lessons learned from the mighty mānuka

It’s a simple but powerful life:

  1. Stand tall
  2. Reach for the sun
  3. Drink from the earth
  4. Bend with the wind
  5. Stand tall and reach for the sun again

I can’t help but think, at the highest level, it’s the same with us.

Quote: Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances - Maya Angelou

Stand tall.

Lift your face to the sun.

Dig your toes into the earth and drink from its energy.

And then, most importantly, bend with the wind.

Shelly home land on Great Barrier Island  - looking out at the mānuka trees
Aotea – Great Barrier Island NZ

Move with it. Resisting it is when we can break.

We’re made to flex, so why fight it?

Sometimes we need to let the wind blow us parallel to the ground, but then rise again.

Quote - But still, like air, I'll rise - Maya Angelou

The ebbs n flows

I can see this in my life again and again and again.

Husband left you and then drowned?


Single mother managing everything that entails?


Watching your children make the wrong decisions?


And then rise again.

Quote: We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty - Maya Angelou - Image by Shelly Davies

The lessons passed on

A key message I repeat to my son, a young man in his 20s finding his way in a world shaped by his teenage choices, is this:

There’ll always be another thing.

What you’re experiencing IS LIFE.

Don’t keep waiting, hoping, holding your breath for it to get easier. There will always be another thing.

So bend with the wind, my son.

Bend with the wind.

Sway, lean, relax.

Let it take you, and then when the gust passes, stand tall and feel the sun on your face.

Just know that tomorrow the wind will blow again, so be prepared to bend.

And, RISE again!

Shelly Davies quote - "Mānuka as a metaphor for life - bend then rise again

Evidence of growth

Is that little mess just evidence of your growth?

So I redid my office recently and made it all beautiful and I’m a bit in love with it cos I’m so good with making spaces functional but not pretty but I won’t bore you with all the details (*aaaand breathe*).

My pretty little plant

What I wanted to tell you about is this pretty little plant:

I wanted a wee little plant on my beautiful white desk

(with the beautiful white monitor and the beautiful white speaker and the beautiful white marble little tray for pens and things


Told you.

A bit excited).

So I bought one and re-potted it into a little white pot and gave it a bit of a drink.

(Here you go, wee plant. You’ve earned a drink. Think I’ll have one too.)

Shelly’s Ninja taking photographic evidence of how epic Rarotonga is – February 2019

The morning after

And the next morning, my beautiful white desk had a ring of dirt around said beautiful wee plant.

So I wiped it away.

And the next morning, my beautiful white desk had another ring of dirt around said beautiful wee plant. So I wiped it away.

On the third morning, I realised what was happening.

My wee plant was growing.


Each night, while no one was watching, it was getting imperceptibly bigger and stronger.

And as it grew and stretched, it was shaking loose tiny bits of the potting mix I had got in amongst its foliage as I re-potted it.

That little ring of dirt was evidence of growth.

And it just made me think.

Growth is a process

Often, we look around our lives and see a bit of a mess, and we blame ourselves for it.

I shouldn’t have said that thing. I shouldn’t have done that thing. Look what I’ve done now, I’ve made a mess of everything.

Maybe you’re just growing

Before you rush to punish yourself and file away a note not to do that thing again, maybe just ask yourself:

Is this ‘mess’ just evidence of my growth?

That argument. That tension. That disapproval. That thing you walked away from.

Maybe that’s just you growing.

(Love you.)