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I said I'm sorry but am I really?


We say "sorry" a lot, even when we aren't or we don't need to be.

"I'm sorry to ask, but...."

"I'm sorry, I don't agree with...."

"Sorry, is this seat taken?"

"Sorry to interrupt"

We are forever apologising for things that we aren't actually sorry about. And things we should be sorry about. Which obviously leads to the response that I'm sure we've all said many many times:

"I'm sorry, I didn't hear that, can you repeat it?"

OK, if you said that then it's great that you asked the person to repeat themselves instead of just pretending you heard.

But is saying sorry sending out the wrong signals? By saying sorry you are basically saying you were at fault for not having good enough hearing and is that really something you want to apologise for? I don't.

By going for the default of apologising it shifts the cause of the problem to the person with the hearing loss, makes it our fault. Studies have shown that over-apologising can make people think less of you, undermine your position and cause a lack of confidence.

The average Brit says sorry about eight times a day.

I think the responsibility for everyone in a conversation being able to hear what is being said belongs to everyone present, not just the person with the hearing loss. If I'm wearing hearing aids, I'm lip-reading, concentrating and I've set my hearing aids to the setting I know will best work in this situation then I've done everything I can, I expect some effort from the speaker to make themselves heard.

Let's flip the situation around. You've started a conversation with someone, you can't hear them clearly so you say, "My hearing is not great, can you speak up please?" - would you expect a response of:

"I'm sorry for speaking too quietly...."

"I'm sorry to make it difficult for you...."

"I'm sorry you didn't hear...."

Sounds weird, right? Not often someone apologies for not being heard, so why should we apologise for not hearing?

Maybe the person feels inconvenienced by having to repeat themselves. "This is annoying, if only this person would listen better, I wouldn't have to repeat myself". But maybe you also feel inconvenienced by having to struggle to hear what they are saying, by tiring yourself out trying to follow the conversation, by asking them to repeat again and again. Who needs to apologise? Maybe one or both of you could do more, it's not always us who have to say sorry.

Sorry is a word that is used so much now I think we just throw it onto the start of a sentence without even thinking about its meaning and effect.

You shouldn't be heading into a conversation thinking, "I hope I don't inconvenience these people by asking them to repeat what they said". Equally, thinking, "I hope I don't embarrass myself by not hearing" is a bad place to be. That mindset is putting yourself down, putting yourself at fault and people may respond to that, perhaps just subconsciously, but if you apologise and become the person at fault the others may see you that way too.

Effective communication is everyone's responsibility, stop apologising for your part in it. Take control of your hearing situation by being as prepared as you can, let people know what you need from them and expect them to put some effort in to.

If you find yourself reaching for a "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you" try changing it to "Could you repeat that please?" It's still polite but it doesn't immediately paint you as the person who is sorry for something. It might just make you feel better about conversations that you struggle in, give you a bit more confidence to hear and get people to make more effort to be heard.

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