Thank You, Not Sorry


How to shift your tone from shame to gratitude with one vocabulary change.

By A. Hajian

I recently attended Awakening the Divine Self, a four-day immersion at Miraval Resorts that made me think acutely about the word sorry.  The workshop leaders, Dr. Tim Frank and Pam Lancaster, challenged us to go 21 days without saying “sorry” and replace it with “Thank you”.

When we sprinkle sorry into our vocabulary mindlessly, we’re not acknowledging the present moment in a conscientious way.  We’re not being mindful of, or present for, our own feelings.

You might say it when you’re about to offend (Sorry to interrupt, but…) or when you bump into someone (Sorry!) You might say it to point out someone else’s mistake (Sorry, that’s not what I ordered).  Maybe you’re afraid to be assertive (Sorry, but I have a suggestion), or maybe you’re not sorry at all (I’m sorry you feel this way). We even say sorry for saying sorry.

We all learned in kindergarten to say Thank you when someone gives you a compliment, a gift, or a gesture of kindness.  What we aren’t taught is to express that gratitude in the less comfortable moments: when we mis-stepped, mis-spoke, or mis-calculated our emotional impact.  We can say thank you in those moments because we are grateful for the opportunity to acknowledge the situation.  Knowledge and awareness lead to gifts of empowerment, wisdom, and growth.

Sorry has become such an offhand response to any offense that it often leaves the recipient feeling underwhelmed or misled. No wonder #sorrynotsorry has become such a popular hashtag.

So, how to move away from the scourge of sorry?  Try Thank you. Rewrite the script and cue your listener to hear the shift. Rather than sitting in shame, we can stand in gratitude for the opportunity and the growth offered by any situation.

Your server brought you the wrong food? Try this response next time:
Thank you for bringing what you did AND could you take it back to the kitchen and see if the chef could try again?

It takes some thought to reframe the moment in gratitude, but the benefit is worth it.  We move away from the resentment of payback to the reward of payoff.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

Easier said than done when life throws us curveballs, Dr. Tim and Pam reminded us, but practice is the first step.

So next time your superior at work gets angry that you didn’t do it right, consider your options before you respond.  You can go through the motions and say you’re sorry.  Or you can be more proactive and say, “Thank you for your feedback so I can look into how to do it better next time.”

Next time you explode emotionally with a friend or significant other, step away from the reflexive sorry. Instead, try this: “Thank you for letting me get this off my chest, for expressing my emotions, so I can do it more constructively next time.”

The difference?  Responding mindfully, instead of reacting.  Because when we react with a knee-jerk “sorry”, we cue the other person to react with a perfunctory “it’s ok” – or we invite them to tell us more about how wrong we’re doing it.  When we respond thoughtfully and choose our words carefully, we change the subtext from one of blame and shame to problem-solving, wisdom, and growth of character.

This doesn’t mean you should abandon the apology altogether.  We all mess up –  leave dishes in the sink, hurt someone’s feelings, or show up late.  It’s natural to feel remorse.  It reminds us that something was out of balance.

I really dropped the ball at work last week and decided to adopt Dr. Tim’s strategy. I looked directly at my boss and said, “I’d like to apologize for missing my deadline.  Thank you for your patience and for the opportunity to get better organized so I can be more punctual next time.” Instead of resentment, sarcasm or the dreaded stony silent response – I received compassion, understanding, and a genuine willingness to give me another chance.

If we acknowledge the emotion, take inventory, be accountable, and extrapolate the wisdom, we can find ourselves giving thanks, not just for the turkey on the table or the harvest from the garden.  We can be grateful for our blunders as well as our bounty, and learn to speak and move with grace into gratitude.



  1. I really appreciated this piece, such an important thing to remember and “Im sorry” has become such an off-handed remark that it barely has any meaning. I’m going to try to keep these words in my head and am excited for the next “i’m sorry” occasion.

  2. Refreshing reminder to take the time to consider our ways of communicating and responding to people, in all kinds of situations!

  3. Excellent story and one that I need to read over and over. I am so guilty of saying “I’m sorry” all of the time. I recently found myself apologizing to a running partner because I felt like I was running “too slow.” I realize now, instead of saying “I’m sorry,” next time I will turn to her and thank her for running at my pace and express my gratitude for the time spent together. I am going to try to break my “I’m sorry” habit and be more connected to what I am really thinking and feeling. I know that it will be a process!

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