A “Sorry” State

I had what I thought was plenty of time yesterday to get two projects completed or close to it. Alas, the best laid plans…

Another client project with an even tighter deadline came rolling in, so I had to drop things with longer deadlines to sort it out. Turns out the project ended up being delayed by the client, so the initial urgency disappeared as quickly as it came, but not before a few hours were chewed up.

Fellow writer and friend Kimberly Ben has a great post up over on Avid Writer about Dealing With Difficult Clients. In it, she tells writers to stop apologizing endlessly for the same issue. Give it a read – a good reminder of how to handle demanding souls.

Maybe it’s our nature as writers or maybe it’s something our mothers taught us about manners, but we tend to do a lot of apologizing. In personal settings, that’s a good practice. In business, however, maybe not so much.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t apologize if you make a mistake. It means you shouldn’t spend all of your time saying “I’m sorry” as a preface to everything else. Here’s when you should say you’re sorry:

When you forget it, botch it, or lose it.

Here are the times you should retrain yourself not to apologize:

When stating your rate. It’s never okay to say something like “I’m sorry, but my rate is double that.” Cut out the first three words of that sentence and start over.

When defending your rate. Which would you not argue: “I’m sorry, but I get that rate because I have the skills and experience to back it up.” or “I get that rate because I have the skills and experience to back it up.”?

When your client flips out. I’ve had a handful of clients go a little berserk due to either misunderstandings or personal issues of their own. To say “I’m sorry” when someone has just accused you of being a lousy writer, a liar, a cheat, or anything at all is to give them more fuel – they now believe you have something to be sorry about. In one case, a client gave me a verbal lashing because I wasn’t able to rewrite an article and do three interviews within his ridiculous two-hour time limit. When he started snapping about how unprofessional my work was, my response wasn’t “I’m sorry, but you didn’t give me enough time.” Instead, I said, “That’s because the time constraints were such that I couldn’t complete the job with my usual quality.”

When you’re not really sorry. If you know you’re not at fault, don’t accept blame. Simply say something akin to you’re not happy with the situation either and that you have a few suggestions to get things back on track. If the client has made it impossible for you to do your job correctly, the apology shouldn’t be coming from you. However, don’t demand one of the client. It doesn’t matter as you won’t be working with that one again.

When do you resist the urge to apologize?

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  • Jake P February 9, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I have a client in Spain (I think I've mentioned him before), and I used to find myself apologizing a lot for not understanding him. English is his second language, so a lot of what he types (we generally communicate via IM) requires interpretation. And he is prone to flipping out, big time.

    My preferred tactic, rather than saying "sorry, I didn't understand you," is to repeat my limited understanding back to him: i.e., "So, what you're saying is, you want me to write the video script first, then finish the edits on the newsletter, right?" Then he can correct me, rather than steamrolling me with "What do you mean you don't understand? It's the same thing I told you last week! Rant rant rant…"

    Bottom line, he's a volatile guy by nature. But he pays extraordinarily well, and, let's face it, I can be bought.

  • Wade Finnegan February 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    For me, it's a self doubt issue. Am I really worth this price? I know that I am, but that little voice of self doubt creeps in and I start to apologize. It takes self discipline to squelch it and I'm getting better. I just need to remind myself that I am a business and businesses don't apologize for doing business.

  • Joseph Hayes February 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Does, "I'm sorry you're an idiot" count?

  • Anne Wayman February 9, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Great list Lori… Jake's approach works – repeating back.

    Wade, practice practice practice knowing you're worth it.

    And Joseph, I think it does count at least once a lifetime.

  • Paula February 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    By nature, I'm the type who apologizes for being in the way if some clod steps on my toes, so I fight that urge to apologize every day. There's an upside, though: I'm getting really good at the sarcastic apology.

  • Jake P February 9, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Paula, in our house we call that the "nonpology." Not to be confused with a nonvitation.

  • Lori February 9, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Jake, I'm glad your scruples are intact. LOL Good way to defuse that situation.

    Jeez Wade, you've just echoes the thoughts of every single writer on the planet (except the lousy ones who can't be convinced they're lousy). That's exactly the feeling we fight off the entire career. I thought I'd done so until a year ago when I worked with a really strange editor. I found myself questioning my abilities. Stupid, but you do doubt yourself when someone keeps telling you you're making mistakes.

    Joseph, I would think that is an essential sentence in the careers of all freelancers. I should embroider that and hang it over my desk. 🙂

    Anne, it's funny how often we say "I'm sorry" as a preface. Drives me nuts to hear it and to catch myself doing it.

    Jake, I thought the "nonpology" was the one that went "I'm sorry, but…" The "but" cancels everything. 🙂

  • Paula February 9, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    Like Lori, I thought the "I'm sorry, but…" was a nonapology, a near cousin to the passive-aggressive-fauxpology: "I'm sorry if you feel I did something wrong…"

    Seems any apology lacking sincerity qualifies.

  • Ashley February 10, 2012 at 4:06 am

    oooh Lori, this is a great topic. I've actually been battling this for several months now, occasionally in my business, but even more often in other areas of my life. I find myself saying "I'm sorry but" just out of habit. I realized a while back that when I said it, I usually wasn't sorry and it wasn't my fault! I have made a conscious effort to think about those words before they come out, decide whether I'm actually sorry about something, then proceed with my sentence. I have gotten good at saying "I'm sorry" only when I really am (and also gotten good at pondering all that at lightning speed!) I have found that my attitude is different and I have more self-confidence when I don't constantly put myself down, especially when it's for the other person's sake.

  • Lori February 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Great one, Paula! So true – if it lacks sincerety, why bother?

    Ashley, it's said that an apology costs us nothing. True, but not if it become habit and certainly not if it becomes a weapon used by someone else. I think it's good practice to use apologies only when necessary and not as a way to smooth over the situation.

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