Okay. I never make resolutions — except that I always resolve to have more fun. But I do set goals and revise habits. As Mr. Aristotle put it, and I paraphrase: excellence is not a one-time glorious achievement that you somehow nail on a really great hair day; it’s the sum of all your habits.
Your communication skillset is essentially a portfolio of habits. The specifics you want to look into are speaking clearly, listening attentively, interpreting situations and messages to your best interest, managing how others perceive you, and this one other little detail.
The cool thing about habits is that changing one tiny habit propels you to make other positive changes. You develop momentum and stronger self-confidence. Every single public speaking client I have worked with has gone on to achieve remarkable things that were previously considered by them as off limits or totally impossible.
My very first client came to me because she was too nervous to speak up at her table when she went to her service club meetings. She went on to become president of that club and ran for local office.
Sometimes I don’t feel like swimming laps, so I promise myself to do 10 and get out; turns out I never stop at 10.
Likewise, there is this one little bitty communication habit that will literally change your life and your friends and possibly your mom will happy dance in secret once you get this. Who knows what else may happen in your life as a result.
Here it is.
If appropriate, simply say “excuse me.”
Normally I wouldn’t tell you not to do something, but I would subtly suggest that you do the opposite. But I can’t find a better way to let you know that constant apologizing is not only annoying to hear, it makes people doubt your true abilities.
If you’re a woman brought up in the South and you’ve have not be harangued by me personally, I bet you do any of the following on a regular basis:
- Apologize to furniture when you bump into it so as not to offend the delicate chair or that uppity table.
- Apologize to people who bump into you, as if it were a heinous crime to be present in their path of distraction at that moment.
- Apologize when you inadvertently touch someone in passing, as if you carried these amazingly contagious germs that would endanger the person’s life.
I know you do this because I have. But after spending years, I mean decades, of my life analyzing why some people move forward in life and others seem to get trapped in a hamster wheel of frustration (hint: communication skills are involved), I don’t do it anymore.
When I was a teenager, I used to assist my dad in his periodontal practice. Seriously. I had the whole dental assistant thing down: putting the napkin around the patient’s neck, disinfecting everything all the time with, holding various tools while my dad would look into the patient’s mouth.
I am not squeamish, I can see blood and be fine. But the grossest thing I ever saw in my life was the mouth of a long-time smoker. I spare you the details but literally I was gagging behind my mask. And I NEVER ever touched a cigarette.
That is how I want you to feel about apologizing unnecessarily. If you eat the last brownie in my house, it’s fine to apologize and possibly at some point I may have the grace to forgive you. If your coat touches mine as we pass each other in the elevator, you do not need to apologize.
When you tune into how other exceedingly nice and talented, courageous and industrious women apologize to others for no good reason, notice how awkward the situation becomes. On the other hand, consider Beyoncé. I don’t think she apologizes. Ever.
Saying that you’re sorry when you haven’t done anything wrong gives the impression you don’t value yourself. You can’t expect others to value what you clearly do not.
One small act creates a ripple of change. Whenever you feel like saying “I’m sorry,” just say excuse me.”
Be the amazing woman you were made to be. Be the one who graciously accepts responsibility for her actions and says “excuse me” instead of “I’m sorry.” And have a ridiculously awesome 2016.
Laura Camacho is obsessed with communication as a tool for building bridges and careers. She believes all conversations should be carried out with style and enthusiasm. And a presentation is just a special conversation. Read her bi-weekly posts at www.mixonian.com. She’s up for hire for quirky communication workshops and executive coaching.