Being an administrative assistant is a challenging and rewarding role. Today’s administrative assistant is responsible for a variety of things beyond answering phones, setting schedules, and drafting communications. Today’s administrative assistant interacts with professionals at every level of the organization, is often the point person for important projects and initiatives, and can spend as much time in high-level meetings as an executive. To that end, projecting confidence and credibility is vital. And yet, many admins are unconsciously sabotaging their confidence and credibility with one poor word choice.

And, that word is Sorry. How often do you find yourself saying sorry for things that are in no way your responsibility? Or, saying sorry as a mindless reflex instead of a thoughtful response? If you are like many people, the answer is… far, far too often.

Whenever I bring this up in live workshops both in-person and online, someone inevitable says something like:

OK, Pamela. I understand that saying sorry is a bad habit and can erode my credibility. However, what do I say instead? Isn’t a “sorry” sometimes necessary?

And, I agree 100% with the sentiment behind that comment. Some situations definitely call for an apology. However, there are better ways to respond than with sorry. Here are some options.

My hands-down favorite option is to replace I’m sorry with I apologize. Intentionally choosing to say I apologize not only makes your apology more sincere and genuine (because people hear the casual sorry far too often and it has lost its impact), it keeps you from offering apologies when none is warranted. Try it. It works.

Another option is to find a reason to say thank you. For example, instead of saying I’m so sorry I was late, try I was late – thank you for your patience. You are taking ownership of your actions without making excuses and simultaneously expressing appreciation.

And, if a more serious error or mistake is made, use a combined approach. I made a mistake (I was wrong, I was insensitive, I was unprofessional), I apologize. What can I do to make it better? You can also share what you are going to do to fix it or make it right instead of asking what you can do.

And, let’s not forget the always handy:

  • Pardon me.
  • Excuse me.
  • Oops! My bad! (Casual, yet perfect for certain situations.)
  • My condolences. (Perfect as a response to loss.)
  • Oh…. I wish that hadn’t happened to you. (An empathetic response to something bad happening.)

As administrative professionals, the words you choose to use and the words you choose to lose can make a dramatic difference in how you are perceived. Don’t let the sneaky habit of saying sorry impact your credibility. Make a small change. Choose to minimize, or lose altogether, your use of the word sorry by choosing some of the options above.