Challenges - The Week of No Sorrys
I say sorry a lot.
Sorry for troubling you. Sorry for interrupting you. Sorry instead of hello.
I wondered this week what might change if I were to suppress that desire to apologise at every opportunity and let myself be very unapologetic about my existence.
Thus, 'A Week of No Sorrys' has been established. This week I will avoid the 's' word entirely and attempt to go about my life as usual without it.
Someone offers me a seat on the tube and I almost say 'sorry' on reflex but the chocked response that did come out was more of a 'I'm okay, thank you'. First bullet dodged.
I work in a Japanese office in London. As part of normal conversation the word 'sorry' appears an awful lot. For the purpose of this experiment I'm skipping all pleasantries. No 'sumimasen' or 'gomennasai' for me this week.
The first test was asking my boss about that 1 week holiday I'd like to take in September. Given that I'm a standalone role and my boss is not so much MY boss but everyone's it was more informing him of my leave. Therefore avoiding the Japanese style 'I'm so sorry to trouble you by disappearing for a week to have the time of my life in New York' was not so difficult. He nodded and suggested I go see some baseball while I'm there.
First meeting of the week and I spent it reminding myself not to say sorry. Although this meeting was a casual one it was, of course, a Japanese one and stumping my desperate need to spout a 'sorry' every second sentence required some effort. It's making me realise just how timid I am when speaking my second language.
As the afternoon goes on one of the accounts team who does the payroll visits my office. She's misread my pension instructions and I let slip a big ol' "SUMIMASEN!" even though its not my fault. I know the minute the sorry escapes my mouth I've failed on my first day. I try to make up for it but it's already lost. I apologise a few more times for her mistake.
Later on, I'm speaking with the boss and a colleague about a policy review and as we are finishing up I almost mutter another 's' word just thinking about the time I've taken up in their day before I stop myself. I narrowly escape with an 'onegaishimasu' (thank you/please) and run out of the room.
This sorry-less life is much harder than I thought but at least the self-checkout at Sainbury's doesn't prompt me to apologise for the tuna can I accidentally dropped on the scanner.
At the airport, a miserable piccadilly line means I’m late. Without hesitation I march towards my waiting boss nodding my head and muttering apologies. It’s 5 minutes and he’s been playing Pokemon Go so he’s fine.
In the club area he goes to get me a coffee and I’m realising I often apologise instead of thanking. It may be a Japanese thing but at least it’s something I can change. More ‘thank you’s, less ‘sorry’s.
Today I'm travelling to Germany for a night. We've got a smaller office over here I have yet to visit and the big boss and I have decided to come over to meet the team.
Germany, I think, surely no apologies here will be easy given the culture of directness they have here?
But no. Within 5 minutes of entering the German Office I've apologised. Someone was making space for me on the shared desk and my automatic reaction was to mutter "sorry, sorry, sorry" as I place my laptop on the table.
At dinner in the evening I forget to switch my 'sorry's to 'thank you's every time someone offers me a drink or one of the shared food plates.
I get back to the hotel at night wondering if I really apologise this much on a regular basis. Being hyper aware of it increases the pressure.
I'm off to visit one of our providers in the morning and end up being slightly late but don't apologise for it. Surprisingly, the world keeps spinning. The meeting is rather rough and the provider a little difficult so I do feel a little justified in not apologising.
On the taxi back however... the provider calls me a taxi but I realise halfway through the journey that there's no card machine. If only I had used the ride share app. I start to panic as I watch the numbers rise. I only have 20 euro in my wallet and the journey reaches 22 euro as we pull up. I offer my card knowing it'll be rejected before explaining I only have 20 euro. The taxi driver is a gentleman and tells me no problem. I apologise every second until the receipt written and I'm out of the car. And even then I turn back to wave guiltily as he drives off.
The rest of my day is one-on-one meetings with the staff and they go well until an employee tells me of something they were unhappy with. Without thinking another apology spurts out on behalf of the company. I really am sorry though so perhaps in these cases I shouldn't feel so bad.
Luckily(?) I'm not the one apologising on the flight home. There's a 3hr delay and BA has us sitting on the tarmac for most of it. It's not strictly their fault but they apologise anyway. I wonder what the point of that is. Does a sorry really make the situation any better here? But then again maybe I'm just tired and hungry.
Today is a long day. I wake up feeling the travel exhaustion heavy on my eye lids and make my way into the office.
There's constant meetings today but its positive in the way that people are starting to trust and depend on me. I've only been working here for 6 weeks so I know how important it is to get to this point where people feel free to speak with me.
At the end of the day I need to compose and important email to our Headquarters... in Japanese. I ask the boss to spare a moment when he's free to give me some advise on phrasing. My brain does not process his instructions and eventually he has to take control of the keyboard. He's more than happy to help but I feel defeated and humiliated so I mutter a few more 'sumimasen's before hitting send.
Later I hear him at his desk quietly whispering; "Japanese is hard." and I feel my heart sink.
This week has not been going well for this experiment. Japanese without 'sorry's feels almost impossible at this point and my exhaustion is causing mistakes which again causes trouble for others.
The day ends with a total of 3 mistakes and double the 'sorry's for each.
Towards wrap-up time a colleague comes to ask some questions about providers which turns into me complaining about the treatment I received in Germany and an email I was sent earlier in the morning from the same provider in a similar tone. We agree that at least we have proof of their rudeness and chat for a while about being a young female in a lead role. It's hard to be respected when people are always searching for the authority above you even if there isn't one. I apologise for taking up her time with complaints but appreciate her understanding.
I might have failed to contain my apologies at work but I'm determined to end this week on a positive in my private life.
Meeting with a friend in the morning goes on without any incident and the supermarket proves equally as unchallenging but the tube ride to 'Ladies Night' catches me out when someone stumbles into me.
A 'sorry' slips from my lips as I feel my shoulder blade take the impact. Why do we so often apologise for others offences?
At ladies night I talk to the girls about my experiment and all of them agree what a complicated challenge eliminating apologies is, especially for a woman. And those who also speak Japanese echo my sentiments over the linguistic and cultural importance of 'sumimasen'. We launch Aggretsuko on Netflix to prove the point. An honest cartoon that to some may seem exaggerated but to those of us who know, hits far to close to home.
Given the nature of a ladies night that includes 5 bottles of prosecco and champagne I wouldn't be a reliable source of information on the events of the evening but, taking into account my previous alcohol-infused behaviour, I imagine at some point I probably apologised for speaking too directly on a manner of things.
I've started to realise the only sure way to not apologise is not to talk at all.
Today I have no plans. The first day in a long time that I have an empty schedule and it's a relief. I spend the morning breaking down moving boxes and clearing out my junk drawer. I get things ready for the week and suddenly realise I haven't vlogged in a while.
So, I whip out the camera... and... apologise.
I can't believe it. A day without human interaction and I still managed to say the 's' word.
This week has been hard but enlightening.
At the beginning of the week I really wasn't expecting it to be so hard to cut out such a simple word but sure enough I have broken the role every single day.
Apologies are important; for etiquette, for forgiveness and for the consideration of others. Going 100% without 'sorry's for any length of time seems to be more difficult than I ever expected but it has shown me the difference between necessary and unneccessary apologies.
Often I find myself in situations where the 'sorry' is a substitute for 'thank you' and I'll be trying, moving forward, to stop this from happening. After all, showing gratitude is far more positive than an uncomfortable apology for someone else's kindness.
I also, very frequently, apologise for someone else's mistake. While I imagine this acts as some sort of tool of empathy I also feel it's not honest. Am I really sorry that someone else has done something wrong or am I just adding to the problem? I hope I can change this to more constructive communication. A "that's okay, let's see what we can do to fix it" might be a better approach.
Of course, when it's my fault its a different situation and I always feel owning up and taking responsibility for your mistake is highly important. An instant 'sorry' followed by practical steps to make up for the issue are key.
As for the Japanese aspect, I don't think it's a bad thing that apologies are so ingrained into the culture. But I do think I probably overuse those few words. As in English, it wouldn't be a bad thing to switch the apology which emphasises the negative into a more positive turn of phrase.
I'd be interested to try this experiment again after spending a bit more time learning how to implement the above points. Is this something that, over time, I can improve? And if so how will it effect my confidence and assertiveness? One would assume for the better.
Have you tried a 'No Sorry' week? Or perhaps you want to now. Let me know how it goes! I would be fascinated to hear if anyone else struggled as much as I did.