Most of us do our best to be on time for our appointments, because it’s common courtesy and basic good manners. However, thanks to traffic jams, train delays, or a work or life emergency, sometimes even the promptest people are occasionally late. When that happens, of course you want to immediately apologize to the person you kept waiting, but simply rushing in full of apologies like, “I’m so sorry late, there was construction on the highway,” may not be the best way to apologize for your tardiness.
According to Peter Bregman, the author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want via Lifehacker, when people are late, they end up apologizing for the wrong things. “Most people will apologize and offer an excuse. ‘I’m sorry I’m late, this meeting ran over.’ ‘I’m sorry I’m late, I didn’t intend to be late,’” said Bregman. “But the person who’s been waiting for you for twenty minutes isn’t experiencing your intention. They’re experiencing the impact of the result.”
WATCH: The One Word You Should Never Use When Making an Apology
What Bregman is suggesting is that instead of apologizing for being late, apologize for wasting the person’s time, that way they feel like you recognize not just your own frustration, but their aggravation, too. After all, knowing that you were stuck in a traffic or whatever the reason for your delay might be, doesn’t make the person sitting awkwardly at a restaurant for 20 minutes feel any better, however apologizing for their delayed meeting or luncheon recognizes their patience. So next time you’re late, try saying something like “Sorry for keeping you waiting” or “Sorry for wasting your time.” It’s a subtle difference, but one that can make whoever you inadvertently kept waiting more likely to forgive and forget.