No one enjoys being the bearer of bad news—especially in writing. When communicating unfortunate news, a mistake, or a disappointing turn of events, we tend to throw in one particular phrase to soften the blow: “Sorry for the inconvenience.” The temptation to use this sentence is understandable. But it’s often overused, whether we’re reporting a slight nuisance, like changing the time of a meeting, or something more significant, such as canceling a major contract.
But even when employed in earnest, this trite turn of phrase has become so common that, ironically, it can sound insincere. Especially if your recipient will see the inconvenience as a big annoyance, the canned apology can convey little remorse; you risk sounding disingenuous or insensitive.
There are better options for saying sorry. Sometimes there’s a more appropriate way to express regret about a situation, especially if it’s out of your control. Other times—when you really are remorseful and at fault—there are stronger ways to say it. Here, we’ve rounded up a handful of alternatives for different situations you may find yourself in.
1 “I understand your frustration.”
Especially in customer-facing roles in professional settings, it’s easy to use “Sorry for the inconvenience” for a number of issues (e.g., a lost package, missed appointment, or faulty service). In these cases, the phrase can land as invalidating or unprofessional instead of caring. This can escalate frustration.
It’s important to craft responses to show you understand your recipient’s perspective and want to make up for wrongdoing. Rather than dismissing their complaint as a mere “inconvenience,” acknowledging their feelings and accepting blame is more likely to lead to repair. Using “I understand your frustration” guides the response with empathy. It’s a stronger way to hopefully deescalate heightened emotions—and reach a solution both parties feel good about.
2 “I realize this is disappointing.”
Imagine this: You’re exhausted from a busy work week and need to cancel on a dinner date . . . thirty minutes before it starts. Sending “Sorry for the inconvenience” feels like an impersonal way to deliver that news. Even though our communications are increasingly digital, we are not robots. Remembering that there is a person on the other end of the correspondence.
Recognizing disappointment and taking ownership are key here. Show you’re thinking of their perspective. Instead, try starting your text with something along the lines of, “I realize this is short notice, and that we’ve been looking forward to meeting at your favorite restaurant all week. . .” With this, you take accountability. Including personal details also communicates caring.
Letting your recipient know that you’re aware of your faults and aim to fix things will build trust and confidence in the relationship, whether personal or professional.
3 “Thanks for your patience.”
Regret and remorse are not the same things. Sometimes, things happen that are unfortunate or regrettable but are beyond our control. These circumstances don’t actually warrant your apology. For example: Imagine you’re an airline booking attendant and a winter snowstorm causes an hours-long flight delay. You aren’t responsible for the extreme weather. In this case, using “I’m sorry for the inconvenience” can place blame on yourself when there isn’t any.
In apologizing, you risk accepting responsibility for something beyond your control. Instead, shift the emotion at hand from remorse to gratitude. Expressing thanks for understanding flips the script and is likely to spark that very sentiment in the recipient, too. Try: “Thank you so much for your patience. We hope the conditions will be safe for takeoff soon.” This lets the recipient know that you empathize with and understand their exasperation.
4 “Let me help.”
Instead of offering an apology, offer a solution. People complain when they are disappointed—not because they like to whine, but because they want to be heard, or want their problem to be solved. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience of spilling red wine on your white pants” won’t get the stain out. On the other hand, “Let me pay for your dry cleaning” will.
Having the awareness to be proactive in the problem-solving process will prove to your recipient that you strive to be a more responsible person. This approach can save you from headaches down the road. Next time there’s a problem that’s within your power to solve, offer to fix it.