When Thank You is an Apology: This Thanksgiving, practice conscious gratitude

Photo by  Simon Maage  on  Unsplash

Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

You don't have to say "I'm Sorry" to apologize. How to use the power of Thank You in public speaking and professional communication. 

One of my favorite topics to talk about is unconscious behaviors. This is what happens when we undermine our own authority with fillers, qualifiers, and apologies. In workplace environments, professionals often catch themselves apologizing for taking up someone's time. When public speaking, we may apologize for taking up the audience's time with our body language, by talking too fast or by not owning our words. It may happen at the beginning of a conference call, presentation or meeting. I'm often asked, "Is it okay to thank the audience for their time instead?"

What a lovely concept. If done intentionally.

An article circulating the internet earlier this year presented the idea of replacing apologies with a Thank You. From Panda Elder:

What I really wanted to say was sorry. Sorry I’m having to bring this up. Sorry it’s not enough. Sorry if I’m upsetting you. Sorry I’m feeling my worth. My honesty was the exact thing I wanted to apologize for, but I didn’t.

Normally I would have but I’ve been consciously replacing “sorry” with “thank you”.

This switch has made me feel so much more empowered. At first I was surprised that word choice could have so much influence over my feelings, but then it occurred to me that it’s not just my words that changed, but the actions I take before speaking them. Rather than seeking bits of approval and reassurance in apologies, I give them to myself.

This is a powerful concept, as long as the intention behind the phrase is not still an apology.

Which comes first, the words or the intention? Does our intention change only by changing the words? Is it like Embodied Cognition, where an external change alters how we feel internally? Or is it more like working inside out, where you have to first feel it in your bones in order to project it outwards?

Intentional Gratitude

There's a lot of talk these days about gratitude. When we get lost in our phones it can be hard to be grateful for what is right in front of us. You have a big meeting where you are presenting to top stakeholders. You are probably feeling anxiety, fear and pressure. But are you also thankful for their time and grateful for the opportunity to present new ideas? Most likely it's a healthy mix of all of those emotions. The negative ones may just be louder.

You get up to make a speech. You've been preparing and practicing for weeks. You've been dreading it too. Your heart is beating out of your chest. People you admire are in the room. You are anxious and terrified, but aren't you also grateful there are so many people there? Would you prefer if the room was empty, or the people you look up to didn't show?

In The Power of Vulnerability, Brene Brown says to "Be vulnerable. Let yourself be deeply seen, love with your whole heart, practice gratitude, and joy... be able to say 'I am thankful to feel this vulnerable because it means I am alive', and believe 'I am enough.' You are worthy of love and belonging." Does that make you feel exposed? Does it feel sappy or icky? There are reasons why we go to apologies easier than gratitude. Thanking someone for showing up for you is as open as we get.

This Thanksgiving, explore your use of the phrase Thank You. Listen to the intention behind the words. Open up more. Use it fully. Really thank someone with a heart full of gratitude, even if it feels sappy or icky. And watch what happens.