Pieces of the Personal Effectiveness Puzzle, #8: Say Please, Thank You, and I’m Sorry

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 19, Issue No. 11b
March 15, 2021

By Dan Coughlin


There are three very powerful phrases that effective people use whenever appropriate. They are please, thank you, and I’m sorry.


Please is a beautifully simple word that conveys civility and personal dignity.

Rather than saying, “Get those reports to me by 10 AM tomorrow,” you can say, “Please have those reports to me by 10 AM tomorrow.” The first one sounds like you’re talking to a robot or some inhuman digital object, and the second one confirms that you understand that there is a human being on the other end of the request.

Every business is a relationship business. Civility is an important part of a relationship. And saying please is the shortest and simplest way to convey civility and to demonstrate treating the other individual with personal dignity.


Saying thank you is a way of conveying gratitude. You don’t say thank you once at the beginning of the day and be done with it. You don’t say thank you once at the end of the day to cover the entire day. You just simply say thank you whenever the situation calls for it.

If you’re talking face to face, then look the person in the eye and slow down and say thank you. This is a great way to demonstrate civility and show appreciation.

Saying thank you on email is a good idea and writing a handwritten note of thanks is a great idea.


Saying a genuine, I’m sorry, is a way to demonstrate that you are a human and that you care about other humans. When you’ve done something wrong either intentionally or unintentionally, saying I’m sorry acknowledges that you realize that it was wrong and that you are taking responsibility for what you’ve done.

There are big moments and there are small moments when saying I’m sorry is the right thing to do. Any time you realize you’ve done something wrong, take responsibility and simply say, “I’m sorry. That was my fault.” You can’t control how the other person or the group will respond to your apology. The relationship might be severed and you won’t be forgiven. However, you can still take responsibility for what you’ve done by saying, “I’m sorry. That was my fault.”

Over the past four years I can think of many big and small personal and professional situations where I realized after the fact that what I said or did was the wrong thing to say or do. Each one of those moments required me to acknowledge that what I had done was wrong. It didn’t matter if it was unintentional on my part or if it happened in the midst of an emotional back and forth debate or if it happened 20 years ago. A wrong act is still a wrong act. As soon as I realize I am wrong, I need to apologize.

Once we realize that we said or did something wrong, then it’s time for us to say we are sorry. Not two weeks or two years later. When it becomes clear to us that we were wrong in what we said or did that could have offended the other person, then that’s the right moment to apologize.

I’m not talking about saying I’m sorry 50 times in an hour. I’m talking about the big and little things that happen over the course of a year when it’s clear to us that we need to take responsibility and admit what we said or did was wrong.


Three simple statements: Please, thank you, and I’m sorry. You can strengthen relationships, increase civility, both feel and express gratitude, and accept responsibility for your words and actions through these simple words, and I believe they will help you to become more effective as an individual.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at dan@thecoughlincompany.com with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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