Reversing the Overuse of “Sorry” in Veterinary Teams

July 26, 2017

The first time I sat down with a team of receptionists to have a discussion around the overuse of “Sorry,” I didn’t realize I would touch so many heart-strings. I remember it vividly, like it was yesterday, even though it was a decade ago.

As an example, we discussed how stating, “Sorry, we are unable to see Fluffy this morning,” could be stated in a more empowering way, even if a client had asked for a morning appointment and all were booked . Alternatives included, “Yes, we are happy to get Fluffy in. Available appointment options include 1:00, 1:30 or 2:00.” OR “Thank you for entrusting us with Fluffy’s annual exam. We can see him later in the day.”

Once the receptionists became conscious of their use of “Sorry,” there was an increase in their ability to be more effective and respected team members, both in the eyes of the clients and their co-workers.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am all for being polite and sincere! I feel it is time to bring greater awareness to the overuse of “Sorry,” for everyone on the veterinary team.

A definition for sorry is feeling distress, especially through sympathy with someone else’s misfortune.

Consider how often you or your team members simply toss out the single word “sorry.” Is there true sympathy for someone else’s misfortune? Is “sorry” meant as a true apology for a wrongdoing, stress or suffering?

Do you begin an email with, “Sorry my response is slow” even when your correspondent KNOWS you are busy and the response is within a couple of days? OR start a sentence with “Sorry, I have a question”? Never be sorry for having a question. In veterinary medicine, a question may save a pet’s life! Or in leadership, you are expected to ask questions.

“Sometimes apologies come too easily and too frequently, as when we apologize for things that are clearly not our fault, not in our control or otherwise unworthy of an apology. Research suggests that women may be more prone to over-apology than men,” suggests Juliana Breines, Ph.D in her Psychology Today post.

While speaking recently with two veterinary technicians, our conversation was on this exact topic. Under two different circumstances they had begun a conversation with “Sorry,” when there was no apparent reason for a needed apology. I suppose that is why I felt compelled to bring it up in our Blog.

Consider the overall wellness of your veterinary team. When people feel racked with guilt and shame when no wrongdoing has occurred, this can be an indicator for the need for professional help. There may be underlying trauma or self-worth issues which may need to be addressed. The overuse of “sorry” may be a subtle sign of a much deeper problem.

Your challenge, over the next week, is to pay close attention to the number of times “sorry” passes through your lips and the lips of your co-workers. Consider bringing this topic up at a team meeting. You may be surprised at the heart-strings you pull on, even if you feel this is a rather low-risk conversation.

Yours in veterinary team wellbeing,

Rebecca Rose, CVT

Today I received an IM from Angi (we graduated from CMC in 1987 with our AAS in Veterinary Technology!). She wrote, “Just a hello! Yesterday while at work, my boss handed me our staff communication book. I need to make sure all the small notes are actually written up. The first paper out is your blog on not using “sorry” at the front desk. Just made me smile. Thought you might like to hear how far your reach really goes (I am sure you know this though).”

Her outreach brought a huge smile to my face, too!