Sorry to Bother You, But…

I’m sorry to bother you, but people tell me I start conversations like this too often. It’s verbal filler that I over-rely upon. You know what I’m talking about…the “um”, “uh”, “like”, “I mean”, “basically” that people unconsciously use in public speaking and interviews. It’s a bad habit that I’m working on.

“I’m sorry, but…” didn’t start out as unconscious for me. I used it intentionally because I HATE being interrupted. Many times it’s an unwelcome distraction. In my mind, giving a pre-apology would smooth the transition. I wouldn’t come off as pushy because I showed empathy before I started. I understood I was interrupting the other person’s day, and I was trying to make it as minimally intrusive as I could.

“I’m sorry, but…” it didn’t work that way, at least with an old coworker who had the nerve to tell me. Let’s call him Kramer. Kramer Nose JobKramer and I were working together on a roll out tie dispenser project (for emergencies like getting mustard on your tie right before a big meeting). I dropped by his desk to ask the question and went into my regular “I’m sorry to bother you, but…” routine. He quickly cut me off and said, “Dude, you have to stop doing that. Don’t apologize for doing your job.”

“I’m sorry, but…” my coworker’s response took me aback. Instead of being pushy, I was being whiney. That’s even worse because whining is more annoying than pushing. I’d rather people think I’m a-hole instead of a meager walkover.

“I’m sorry, but…” I should have known better. Nobody likes to be around a constant whiner. There was this guy who lived in my apartment building who was a total downer. Let’s call him George. The RabbiI braced myself any time George approached me because I knew he would start whining about some stupid problem (that he probably manufactured himself). And he would start every conversation in his Droopy Dog way with “Hi Don…oh…I don’t want to bother you…” and then proceed to dive into the most recent injustice life had heaped upon him.

“I’m sorry, but…” it really didn’t matter how I responded to George. His meager preamble was his subconscious rationalization to get started. He probably had no clue he was using it at all, (or at least as often as he was). Unconscious or not, once he got started I was trapped into listening to his rant.

“I’m sorry, but…” Kramer made me realize I was doing the same thing as George. I was so embarrassed. My pre-apology was completely disingenuous. I wasn’t showing empathy. I definitely wasn’t sorry. It was totally inconsequential. In hindsight, I was saying it to justify to my actions to myself, not to others, and it came off poorly. Everyone knew it but me and only Kramer had the nerve to tell me.

“I’m sorry, but…” it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s safe to assume other people are both already busy and dislike interruptions, just like me. Adding an irrelevant preamble isn’t going to make them feel any better about being interrupted, and might even annoy them when the preamble is used more than once.

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It’s better to be respectful of peoples’ time and just get to the damn point.

I apologize for taking so long to reach this conclusion. Ugh…there I go again…

Thanks for reading,

Don

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