Don’t Say You’re Sorry

A few years ago, I was playing a doubles tennis match and after missing an easy shot I said to my partner Archie that I was sorry. He then told me emphatically, “From now on, never say you’re sorry, just stay aggressive!” All of a sudden a great weight was taken off my shoulders. I didn’t worry anymore about pissing off my partner by screwing up and instead just focused on winning the game. I relaxed, had more fun, and generally played better.

Since then, playing doubles has never been the same. I never say “sorry” any more, and the moment my partner says he’s sorry I say, “Don’t worry, just stay aggressive.”  Of course after that it’s a given that I don’t have to say sorry anymore either.

I have the same rule when dancing, as I’ve been addicted to salsa dancing for the last four years. The moment my partner says sorry, I smile and say, “Baby, you never have to say you’re sorry to me, at least for screwing up.” Just like in tennis we both relax more, we dance better and usually have a good time.

The “no sorry” rule should definitely be in effect in a business setting as well. When a team gets together to come up with new ideas or strategies, its members need to know they are safe to ask questions or bring up ideas which may turn out to be lousy. If employees fear they will be punished through ridicule, embarrassment or firing they probably will be afraid to bring up anything interesting or creative. Sometimes when I have writer’s block or I’m stumped by a problem, I ask myself, “What’s the most ridiculous idea you can think of?” Believe it or not, often those ideas turn out to be the best ones. Or a “stupid” idea can lead a discussion to a whole new approach that wouldn’t have been explored had it not been brought up.

At Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert, I’m blessed to work in an environment where bringing up strange ideas is encouraged, even if they turn out to be complete garbage. Discussions are most beautiful when no sorries are allowed. Do you have the no sorry rule in your business?

Question: Does the “no sorry” rule work in marriage?

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7 thoughts on “Don’t Say You’re Sorry

  1. Jerry Fair

    Noah, I see you are learning about the business world, quickly! I am a supervisor in a mid-size machine shop, and have used your brainstorming ideas for years. When we have a machining problem, I look at the entire process to see where to attack the problem. I have thrown out many ideas to my men that makes them look at me and scratch their heads! I don’t know how many times that the idea has been acted upon, or discussed, until an answer has came to us. Just remember there are no dumb questions, just one that isn’t asked!


    A long time ago, I haven’t been in a movie theater in 50 years, the key formula was, (being something) means never having to say you’re sorry. As president and general manager of a very large machining operation (turning out 22 million pieces per month (very high quality) I would have a technical review every month with my supervisors and the best producers. Over time this produced quality at the cheapest rate. This was my center for excellence and it kept me from having to say I am sorry to the board

  3. Dick Crosby

    Hi Noah! Good article. But! “Sorry” still has a time and place. Stepping on your partner’s toes on the dance floor is one thing, as is saying something stupid at the wrong time on the green. However, a real hurt, physical or emotional, still demands one. Good wife, Georgia, has a life long habit of saying “I’m sorry, but.”, and that drives me nuts. I don’t know how many times I’ve responded with “Then you’re not really sorry, because the “but” kills the whole intent of the statement. She agrees, but can’t seem to shake the habit. And then we laugh about it. Must be a childhood carryover. Sorry!

  4. Dave Tebben

    Never saying “sorry” might be a good way to foster ideas for production problems. However, when it comes to the people part of business, saying “sorry” is invaluable. When I was a kid my dad told that if you can look a person in the eye and say “Sorry” or “Thank You” and mean it, you will very successful because very few people can do that.

  5. Kilgore Trout

    This works fine as long as the boss really means “there are no stupid questions”.
    I’ve seen first-hand a co-worker’s future compromised by the asking of what our boss called an “ignorant” question. He then told him he was ignorant: to his face. Later when my Boss asked what I thought, I told him that he did say “there are no stupid questions.” It took quite a while for him to get over my “siding” with the employee. Talk about being sorry! The danger with brainstorming with anyone, peers, bosses, or underlings, is the very real possibility of ruining your reputation if all your ideas really are hare-brained. At that point, your lack of knowledge/understanding/tact etc. is on full display, and you ARE being judged by the others. This may serve to squelch innovative solutions, but there has to be the right culture in place for this type of off-the-wall brainstorming to work. It is a fragile culture that takes years to create and can be ruined in a single instant.

  6. Lloyd Graff

    Noah, I think there is a place for sorry, especially in a marriage. It is an acknowledgement to your spouse that you are listening and respecting her. Tennis is one thing, forgetting a birthday or criticizing her for having a bad hair day are worthy of a “sorry”. Gamble on ideas,but play it safe on feelings. Dad

  7. Chris

    Hello Noah, Don’t say you’re sorry… I like it! I think it is up there with, “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.” Of course I mean this in moderation and applied with a little intelligence. Where I work, we are often running into situations where we have to shoot from the hip. If we did not have an open environment, much of the technology that way developed would have never occurred. Also, with my job, I am lucky enough to get to travel and with every new city I visit, there is a new place to dance salsa! Yes, it is a great way to meet new people, but on the other hand, if I had to say I’m sorry for every mistake I make on the dance floor, I don’t think I would get that many dances.


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