How many times do you find yourself apologizing throughout the day? Do you say “I’m sorry” when it takes you a few hours to respond to an e-mail? When you start to speak at the same time as someone else? When someone else bumps into you?
You might not even realize when you are doing it. I only realized how frequently I was apologizing after I literally kept a tally for each time I said it in the course of one day. I found, much to my horror, that there were sorrys everywhere. My world-record number: fifty-three. Yes, I said “I’m sorry” fifty-three freaking times. In a day. I was shocked and embarrassed by the number, but the silver lining was that I became aware of my excessive apologizing right then and there—and you better believe I did something about it. I encourage you to count sorrys for yourself, because only once you are mindful of how much you are saying it can you finally stop apologizing for things that aren’t deserving of an apology.
I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that studies have shown women are more likely to say “I’m sorry” than men. The interesting thing about those studies are that men don’t have a problem apologizing, they just have a higher threshold for the stuff they deem worthy of an apology. Bumping into someone coming out of the elevator or not returning a call right away doesn’t make their sorry benchmark. But for many of us ladies, it does.
So why do we as women say we are sorry so much? Part of it might be out of habit. Part of it might be a desire to seem more likable or express empathy. Some women I speak to tell me that it’s about not looking overly aggressive or not wanting to assert too much authority. I get it: It’s nerve-racking to interrupt your boss or badger someone for something that hasn’t been done. But are you sorry for it? Whatever the core reason, it makes us look like we lack self-confidence. Let’s vow to apologize only when we actually do something wrong.
Aside from interrupting a superior, here are other times we tend to say sorry in the workplace—with a possible alternative to say instead:
1. Being late for a meeting
What you might be inclined to say: “I’m so sorry, I had XYZ to do.”
What you should say instead: “Thank you so much for your patience. I know your time is valuable, so let’s dive in.”
2. Asking a question
What you might be inclined to say: “I’m sorry, can I ask a question?”
What you should say instead: “Here’s my question.”
3. Not liking something
What you might be inclined to say: “I’m sorry, I just didn’t think it was that good.”
What you should say instead: “I personally didn’t care for it, but here’s an idea to improve upon it.”
4. Grabbing something or getting by someone
What you might be inclined to say: “I’m sorry, I’m just going to reach by you to get that. I’m sorry, I’m just going to scooch around you.”
What you should say instead: “Do you mind handing that to me?” or a simple: “Pardon me!”
5. If someone asks you a question to clarify something you said
What you might be inclined to say: “I’m sorry for the confusion. What I meant to say was XYZ.”
What you should say instead: “Let me clarify what I was saying about XYZ.”
Nailing workplace communication isn’t an overnight thing, especially if you’re conditioned to be timid. There’s no shame in writing out phrases like this in advance before you walk into an important meeting or difficult conversation. Or practice with a friend. Chances are, she’ll need the help, too.