Apologies are overused, they impose guilt, and drain your time and energy.
Not only are apologies overused, they are often followed by an excuse. Example: "I'm sorry I didn't get you called sooner, I was [fill in the blank]." If you start an e-mail or phone call this way, you've just wasted valuable time thinking about the apology and stating it. Additionally, you have lowered your confidence and self-esteem. To make it worse - apologies are not effective for either person; your groveling apology doesn't make you feel better and it has a small, if any, affect on the other person.
Apologies should be reserved for mistakes. You missed a meeting. You overlooked a deadline. You returned a phone call a month after the voicemail.
Save your apologies for when you have caused a substantial inconvenience to someone. As far as the follow-up to the apology - the excuse; don't waste your time. In a business setting, the other person doesn't care - they are just as busy as you; they probably tune out your excuse, so save yourself the time.
A way to keep unnecessary apologies from your daily communication is to have a system in place and follow the system.
- 24 hours or less to return a phone call.
- 3 days to respond to an e-mail.
- Be on time; be early for meetings.
- 2 weeks to complete a short-term project (ask for this deadline).
This is my ideal system for responding to unexpected requests - this system allows flexibility for my workflow. It isn't like any of us sit around and wait for the phone to ring or an inbox to "ding".
Tailor your system to your situation, but be realistic. If you don't allow yourself flexibility, you will be taking care of other people more than you take care of yourself. Not only are you undervaluing yourself as a professional, you are doing a disservice to the people who are already counting on you to get their work done, as you promised.
In my opinion, you don't need to advertise your "system". It gives the other person an opportunity to judge it. For example, on your voicemail, do not state "all calls will be returned in 24 hours or less". Is this a professional statement? Is it well received? You may have steered a prospective client into the arms of your competitor even if you call them back in less than 24 hours.
There is no need to communicate your system, just make sure you have a system and stick to it. The individuals you work with or the people you serve, will intuitively know your system without being put on notice.
Use your "sorries" carefully and drop the excuses altogether.
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