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