When to Say ‘Excuse Me’ in the USA

Posted On: June 1, 2015

If you are wondering if you need to say “Excuse Me” to American friends, the answer is resounding, “Yes.” But, don’t stop reading here. 

While learning about group discussion etiquette and mannerisms with American colleagues, many Indians ask me, “Do I have to still be so formal even if the American client and I become casual or friendly? Do you still say “I’m sorry” or “excuse me” if you interrupt your client or your family member equally?” 

Polite Expressions and Phrases in American English

In a short word, I say, “Yes.” While we are not always 100% perfect with everyone at every moment, ideally saying “excuse me” or “I’m sorry, can I interject..” or any other polite exclamation for entering a discussion out of turn shows our conversational partners, be them colleagues, family, friends or strangers, we do care about what they are saying and we would like permission to enter before they finish. This shows we are listening. 

When is the last time someone truly listened to you? How did it make you feel? 

You remember those moments. The people in our lives who really, truly listen to us make us feel important and special. Who wouldn’t like us more if we did that? 

Listening IS a Soft-Skill
While one can argue that engaging in these etiquette can become habitual and lose meaning, for those who never experienced these mannerisms, believe me you will leave an impression. That’s the thing, not everyone does it all the time. No one is perfect. Even if your comeback is, 

“Why should I do it, my American colleagues don’t….” 

to this I say, engaging in these behaviors can only help, not hurt, relationships. And, that’s exactly why not everyone does it – it’s a skill. People lose patience, they think their words are more important than ours. When we interrupt others without the pleasantries to enter the conversations, others, over time (or immediately) think of us like this too. 

What Constitutes as an Interruption?
To think that opening our mouths and talking is the only kind of interruption that exists is a fallacy. Below are a few more behaviors that require mannerisms to handle well in professional interactions:

  • Attending to calls, or having side conversations 
  • Answering Emails of Text Messages
  • Looking out of the room and paying attention to someone outside the room
  • Doing other work while in an important conversation
  • Thinking about what we want to say next (and not hearing the other person)
  • Any other behavior that distracts us from paying attention to another person (ex. we are hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, thinking about a deadline, another meeting, our hot date tonight, or our vacation abroad…)

Listening is MORE than a Skill
Hearing is not listening. We do hear others with our ears, but listening takes effort and can be exhausting. If we are entering a conversation led by others, our duty is to listen and find appropriate ways to interrupt if needed. However, if we are the one leading the conversation or discussion, we must craft our communication in an engaging way to keep our listeners interested and attentive. While we can’t be perfect all the time in every situation, we can try our best. Building these skills become our habits which build our character in every type of situation, giving us a good reputation in all areas of our lives! 

Are you unsure how to pronounce the letter/sound X? Check out this post.

Jennifer Kumar helps your team gain conversational mastery with American clients through phone call analysis and training programs such as Meetings from A to Z. Contact us for more information.

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Related Posts:
Phrases to use in a Group Discussion (including meetings and conference calls)
Improving listening comprehension with native speakers   
How to say “thank you” 


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