Whether we’re speaking with family, friends or colleagues, our speech is usually casual and we don’t overthink our word choices, resulting in natural, sincere conversations. But if you listen to conversations you have, I mean really listen, you may become mindful of a habit that’s crept into everyday speech—over-apologizing.
Saying sorry when situations don’t merit an apology has become so commonplace that most of us don’t notice the word leaving our mouth. We’re guilty of this when speaking up, asking questions and sending emails, yet we don’t realize it.
Does this sound familiar?
“I’m sorry to disturb you, but…”
“Sorry for asking, but I just wanted to know…”
“Sorry this issue came up…”
….and the list goes on and on.
There are many plausible explanations for why we apologize excessively. Some people apologize to avoid conflict, whereas others apologize because they’re uncomfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions. Regardless of the reasons, this habit needs to die—especially if you want to be taken serious in the workplace.
An apology might roll off your tongue like any other word in your vocabulary, but the impact of an unnecessary apology is much more stronger than other words. The truth is, over-apologizing at work can have a negative impact on your professional image. It doesn’t matter your position or how much you earn, we’re often judged by the way we respond. A pattern of apologizing excessively may cause coworkers to perceive you as timid, unsure or doubtful. And if your boss and coworkers sense a little vulnerability or insecurity, this can affect your growth within the company.
Granted, a coworker’s perception of you might have minor impact on your advancement. On the other hand, if your boss doesn’t think you’re as competent as other employees, your rise to the top could take longer.
Fortunately, this is a habit you can overcome. Here are three ways to stop over-apologizing at work.
1. Ask yourself, “Did I do something wrong?”
Overcoming this habit doesn’t happen overnight and you’ll have to make a concerted effort to monitor your language. Before uttering an apology, consider whether you’re actually at fault or to blame for an issue.
Sometimes, we over-apologize as a way to ease tension. If a conflict occurs between you and a coworker or boss (and you’re not at fault), beginning every sentence with “I’m sorry” and repeating the apology throughout the conversation implies that you’re accepting blame, and as a result, the guilty party doesn’t have to take responsibility for their actions. This not only hurts your self-esteem, others may get into a habit of walking all over you. Apologize only when you do something wrong.
2. Change your language
Then again, over-apologizing is sometimes learned behavior. In this case, “I’m sorry” becomes a filler word or a substitute for another phrase, such as “excuse me.” As a rule of thumb, if you can replace “I’m sorry” with “excuse me” or “pardon me,” the latter phrases are the appropriate choices.
In addition, some people apologize excessively when being polite, or when they don’t want to come off as rude or intrusive. This might be the case when asking a question. Instead of leading your questions with “I’m sorry,” you could say, “If you don’t mind me asking….”
3. Don’t apologize for being human
We’re human and imperfect, so we’re going to make mistakes—a lot of mistakes. Not every mistake in the workplace requires an apology. Of course, if you’re running considerably late for a meeting or appointment due to traffic, by all means, offer your apologies for keeping the group waiting. These types of situations merit one. However, don’t feel obligated (or think you have to) apologize for normal human behavior. It doesn’t matter if you lost your train of thought in a conversation, stumbled over your words, or had to reschedule lunch plans with a coworker because you were swamped. Explain what happened, thank the person for being understanding and move on.
Can you replace “I’m sorry” with “Thank You”?
This awesome graphic from the article: Stop saying ’sorry’ if you want to say thank you: A seriously insightful cartoon is a great illustration of another way to stop saying the words “I’m sorry”. I think this is another great way to shift your mindset and perception that there is something wrong with you or that you have to apologize for just being alive (which you don’t!).
Apologies have their place in speech, but they don’t belong in every sentence or every conversation. This is a tricky reflex to overcome, but learning how to limit your number of apologies can help you appear more confident and stronger at work.
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