Do you find yourself saying “I’m sorry” all the time? You forget to text your friend back. I’m sorry. You accidentally bump into someone at the grocery store. I’m sorry. You sneeze in the middle of a meeting. That’s right—I’m sorry. It’s a seemingly endless cycle. Over-apologizing can undermine your authority and negatively impact your career. It’s not just a hypothesis—studies show that women do apologize more than men. A University of Waterloo, Canada study found that women tend to apologize more often because they have a lower threshold than men for what they consider offensive. Tara Swart, neuroscientist, Forbes contributor and author of the book, The Source: Open Your Mind, Change Your Life says serial apologists mostly do so out of habit, perhaps stemming from a childhood where they were made to feel wrong or fearful of punishment. According to Swart, “Apologizing when we have done something wrong is a real strength, but compulsive apologizing presents as a weakness at work and in personal relationships.” It’s time for women to kick the apology habit and take their power back using these simple strategies.
The first step is to become more self-aware. Notice how many times throughout your day you apologize. Start a log for a week and write down each time you say the word, “sorry.” You may be surprised at how many times you use the word without even realizing it. See if you can identify triggers like certain people or situations that may cause you to over-apologize. Begin checking your emails to see how often you use the word “sorry.” There is even a handy Gmail plug-in called Just Not Sorry that warns you when you write emails using words which undermine your message.
Change your vocabulary
Is your work project four weeks overdue? That sounds like an excellent opportunity to apologize to your boss. However, there are times when an apology isn’t necessary. Some examples could include instances where you use phrases like: “Sorry, could you send me that report?” “Sorry, I won’t be able to make it that day.” “Sorry, could you repeat that?” or “Sorry I was late.” As you become more self-aware, replace the word “sorry” with more appropriate words and phrases like:
- Could you please send me that report?
- Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it that day.
- Excuse me, could you repeat that?
- Thank you for waiting for me.
Be confident and intentional
Over-apologizing doesn’t send a message of strength. Instead, it minimizes yourself, your presence and your contribution. Try to be more direct in your work communications. Being more intentional in how you express yourself will help you be seen as a leader and trusted authority. By speaking more straightforwardly and clearly, you can showcase your skills and feel more confident in the process. One technique that can help is mind priming, an approach developed by Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School. The basic idea is to write about an occasion when you felt especially powerful, happy, or proud. The research shows that by doing this immediately before a meeting or presentation, you will perform—and be perceived as performing—far more effectively than you otherwise would. In one experiment conducted by Galinsky, 60% of those using mind priming techniques were described by at least one teammate as the “leader of the group”—nearly double the rate expected by chance.
Having enough compassion and humility to apologize is an invaluable trait. It’s not a matter of eliminating the phrase, “I’m sorry” from your vocabulary but to only use it when it’s warranted. Don’t apologize for things that are out of your control. Whether or not it’s your intention, apologizing excessively can project a poor image to customers, co-workers and superiors. Curbing the constant need to apologize requires the same strategy as kicking any other habit. With time and effort, you’ll be able to say goodbye to over-apologizing and hello to reclaiming your power.