Especially if you don’t really mean it.
“I’m so sorry, Oh sorry about that , hey there sorry to bother you, Oh, sorry it’s only me” – and on it goes. Saying sorry when, in truth, we don’t really mean we’re sorry —it’s often more about something to say than necessary and it’s a slippery, dangerous slope if you want to be taken seriously at work.
When I sat with a client, let’s call her Hilary, for the first time, we talked about what she thought was going on which meant she felt so stuck, so undervalued, so small – as she said.
As I sat with Hilary that first meeting, I quietly noticed how many times she said ‘sorry’ – it was about 15 times in the first explanation of her career history and after a while I was conscious of listening less to the story and the details and listening more for the number of times she said “Sorry”.
Because here’s the thing – it wasn’t that she was actually sorry, she didn’t need to apologise to me for anything, it was more that it was a habit and it was something to say. Nerves and habit. I knew that before we could go anywhere with her being more assertive or being more confident in any other areas, we needed to address the sorry word.
Unless you truly are sorry, you’ve made a mess up or upset someone and want to apologise, my advice is to avoid the word. At best it’s irritating for the other person as they start to count or wonder what’s wrong with you or at worst, people start to question your abilities and whether you believe you’re any good or worthy of things if you constantly apologise.
“Sorry but” or “Sorry no” or “Sorry to say” actually does 2 things in the moment – it tells you something’s up, that I think something’s not right and you actually can put people on the defensive or on the look out for some bad news.
There is a gender thing going on here too and it’s worth noting. As women, we’re hard-wired to keep the peace, to help relationships flourish and we don’t like, as a rule to upset people. It’s often why so many women shy away from conflict.
I want to invite you to watch and notice if and how other people apologise and the effect it has on you.
- Notice if it is just something to say OR if they genuinely mean it. Also, notice yourself – if you don’t really mean it, you’ve just got the feeling you need to say something, then just stay silent.
- Pause. Take a breath and here’s something else to say instead. Say “thanks.” Thank you.
- Instead of ‘Oh, sorry for interrupting’ you can say “thanks for sparing me a moment” or instead of saying “Sorry if I’m going on too long” you can say “thanks for giving me your attention a little while longer”.
No apology, just you with your view or your request which is just as valid as everyone else’s and that’s where you become a more effective, confident and comfortable communicator. It’s also when you know that what you have to offer and share makes a difference and has value. No apology needed.