Stop Apologising Too Often

By Siew Ching

Literally, sorry not sorry.

I am going to let you in on something that has really made a huge difference in my confidence at work. Are you ready for it?

I stopped saying sorry. Yups, literally not ever feeling sorry for things that I did or did not do.

Here’s how it all started. I found myself always saying sorry for things like replying late because I was busy, not being able to do a job because my plate was full, and not being able to meet a certain deadline because things were not handed to me earlier. You see, I realised I was saying sorry for things that were not my fault!

For example, I would say “Sorry but I am not able to complete it on time. Maybe in three days instead of two?” But the reality is I was given the job and all the details last minute but was expected to churn out the work in a much shorter time frame. Is it my fault for not being able to meet the deadline? Theoretically, no. So why was I feeling sorry? Mainly because I felt that I was incompetent having not being able to meet the unexpected deadline. But when I really think about it, it wasn’t a case of me being incompetent; it was more a case of not being given enough realistic time to finish what was expected.

See where I am coming from?

The problem with using sorry all the time at work is not because we really want to apologise but more because we want to be polite. It’s an automatic reaction. Think about it – how often do you say sorry at work? Chances are very likely, because it’s just a quick reaction to soften the impact of telling someone bad news or for taking a strong stance on something or not wanting to appear rude.

But guess what? Excessive apologising at work can backfire! Research done in the book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, indicates that when you say sorry too often, others see you as incompetent and lack confidence. It makes you appear as insecure or worried about not being liked by others.

Add on the fact that it is annoying to hear sorry all the time! Everyone has that colleague who constantly apologises. Yes, they are trying to be polite but it is exhausting to hear sorry sorry sorry each time, and even more so for reasons not to be sorry about!

One more reason not to say sorry at work? According to a story published in The European Journal of Social Psychology, researchers found that individuals who were conscious about not saying sorry all the time showed signs of “greater self-esteem, increased feelings of power, and integrity.”

Which is exactly what happened to me when I made a conscious effort not to say sorry! There has been time when I would automatically type out in an email how sorry I was for not being able to do work over the weekend… but back tracked to delete the word sorry and instead just say that I am only able to review the paper on Monday, not Saturday. It made me feel empowered and guess what, the person on the other side of that email respected that decision and was OK with it!

Not apologising all the time also gave me more control over my work schedule and I wasn’t feeling like I was letting anyone down because of something that happened which was not in my capacity. I was more confident and I also stressed less about “feeling sorry”. Know how you tend to overthink about something that happened that you thought was your fault? Well, when you stop saying sorry for it, you move on!

So do yourself a favour – know when to say sorry and when not to. If you can’t control a situation or if it was a trivial mistake, there’s really no need to apologise. It’s not your fault the coffee machine is broken or if you can’t get certain information because the client is on leave. But if it was really your fault, own up to it. Saying sorry at the right time can be advantageous to your career as it shows you have emotional intelligence.

Flip the script. Instead of saying “Sorry for that error, I must have been too tired to catch it”, say something like “Oh thanks for spotting it! Definitely needed two pairs of eyes to look through the document.” Say “I didn’t know we were meeting so last minute or I would have gotten that file ready for you,” and not “Sorry I didn’t have the chance to work on the paper as you requested.” And one more: Instead of “Sorry I couldn’t get back to you sooner”, say “Thank you for being patient. I was super busy this week.” See the difference?

Try it for yourself, you’ll thank me!

Photo by Ron McClenny on Unsplash.

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