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To apologize correctly and effectively is an imprecise art. Any apology that is truly sufficient shows both why you are sorry and that you understand how your potential transgression might have affected other people.

But occasionally I’m sorry not to cut it. The harmed party might think that your mea culpa was there just to appease them or smooth things over down a rocky patch for simplicity. If for some reason you feel that your excuses are not watering enough, you can take a different, slightly unorthodox approach: say thank you instead.

An apology is essentially an admission of guilt that at least suggests a willingness to grow and learn from a mistake. Saying thank you has a similar, if more direct, effect rather than a traditional apology, as it shows that you’ve already learned – or at least are trying to – learn from your mistake.

Illustration for article titled When Should You

“Thank you” makes it a learning experience

There are books about the rigors of Make an effective excuse, but saying thanks is a much more direct gesture. Expressing thanks flatters those affected rather than highlighting your misdeeds.

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For example, if you tend to have casual conversations about someone who brings this to you in frustration, you should thank them for bringing this issue to your attention. Instead of just one word apologizing, let them know that you appreciate realizing how frustrating your behavior has been for them.

If you say thank you or appreciate a highlighted topic, this indicates rather enthusiastically that you are willing to accept the criticism. It leaves little doubt as to whether you will litigate the argument again in your head once it is theoretically resolved because you have shown that you are anything but bitter.

It helps build the other person’s confidence in you

When you’re genuinely sorry for something, you at least want the other party to have confidence in your ability to fix the problem. Replacing an apology with some grace will help you in this regard. In a 2019 Study published in the Journal of MarketingResearchers found that retail dynamics worked pretty well. In the study, consumers felt better when retail workers thanked them for pointing out mistakes rather than apologizing.

If you decide to make a mistake by thanking someone else, you may feel stronger than being meek. It suggests, “Hey, I see this and I’ll work on it because it’s totally within my reach.”

It turns the focus away from you

Not that you should divert any guilt for dishonest purposes. After all, it is assumed that you did something wrong. But when you say thank you, you have to be gracious to the other party because you are doing just that despite being criticized.

After all, reaching a solution requires cooperation between two parties. If you say thank you directly, the ball is put back on the other person’s field of play. This shows that you understand why she is upset and that you will work to do better in the future.