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Take the 'I'm Sorry' Challenge!

05/16/2013 02:52 pm ET | Updated Jul 16, 2013

For one week, notice every time you say "I'm sorry."

Then take note as to why you said it.

A few possible reasons could include: You felt bad for something you said or did, you believed you were in someone's way, you accidentally did something you didn't intend, or as a way to simply give in, to be done with a challenging conversation.

Here's your challenge: Try replacing the phrase "I'm sorry" with a different response.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Feeling bad about something you did? Replace "I'm sorry" with: "I regret what I did. I wish I had known/chosen another way to handle the situation."

  • Wish you had said something different than what actually came out of your mouth? Say so!
  • Using the phrase "I'm sorry" gives very little insight into a situation. By saying, "I wish I hadn't said that" and then following it up with more explanation -- "It's really not how I truly feel or think. I was upset and said something I regret," for instance -- provides a chance for the other person to gain understanding into what was going on for you.

    Granted, they might not be ready in the moment to accept your reasons because of hurt feelings still stewing, but you've done your best to create an honest exchange and you've shifted the tone of the conversation. You are not a bad person defending what you did or said at this point, but simply identifying what happened and why. This works within a work situation also.

    Are you standing in a spot that blocks another person from passing? Rather than saying "sorry" while moving to let the other person through, how about "pardon me," or move without saying anything and give them a smile? "Sorry" seems to imply that you were doing something wrong, when in fact you weren't. All you were doing was standing there, why not just pardon yourself, move aside and let them pass without all this "oops-sorry" business?

    Bump someone accidentally? Rather than "I'm sorry," how about "Oops, excuse me, that was an accident." Again, being sorry is a nice gesture, but did you do it on purpose, did you walk up to someone and smack him upside the head, or did you mistakenly misstep? Why be sorry about a mistake? Shedding a bit of light on what occurred provides a chance for a real interaction between two people. (Who knows -- maybe there's a reason you bumped into them in the first place!) Making eye contact and taking time to speak to another person can be quite invigorating. Having a chance to communicate with another person is a part of being human. Take it!

    What about saying sorry because it seems like the only way to bring peace to a situation? How about providing yourself a moment of silence to explore what you're feeling and sharing that instead, such as: "I'm feeling disappointed that what I did isn't working out the way I thought it would." Giving in vs. being honest and true to oneself will create resentment. It's your choice to give in, but you may be tempted to think you were forced to, but it's no one else's doing what comes from your lips or the actions you take. So instead, why not take time? Employ choice. You're allowed to be truthful -- it' s a stand for your personal integrity.

    If we allowed ourselves the gift of thinking in those uncomfortable or brief moments -- to decipher what just happened, rather than react to it and quickly say the first thing we've been taught -- we might feel a bit more in charge of our own well-being. We may even incur a small rush of excitement. When we take a moment to understand ourselves, we have gained knowledge. Knowledge brings each of us freedom. It may sound silly to think that we can experience freedom from simply choosing a few new words when responding to situations, but if you try it, you will realize how deeply ingrained this "sorry" habit truly is, and from there you have options.

    By noticing how difficult it is for you to say something different than "sorry," you'll have taken a small step toward more personal freedom and individual expression. In the end you might believe "sorry" is the best word to use, but then it will be something you say because it's what you've decided and not what you've been programmed to speak. Accessing new ways to express ourselves wakes us up from the slumber of rote communication. It invokes choice, and its reward is relief. Try it.

    More than anything, I encourage you to take the "sorry challenge" as a way of becoming aware of how you feel each time you utter those words that have been engrained into us since birth. They have been used as a means of serving the well-being of others, but often at the expense of our own authentic expression. There is a way to show care while remaining true to our whole self as well.

    For more by Kimberly Berg, click here.

    For more on emotional intelligence, click here.