Recently I was in a negotiation meeting with a female co-worker. She’s strong, fair, quick, and I greatly admire her intelligence. We were debating across the table with a representative over terms within an agreement and what he was asking for was clearly unreasonable and beyond the agreement. When my colleague denied his requests, even though she was right, she repeatedly apologised for not being able to accommodate his unreasonable demands.
Why do we feel the need to apologise?
Research indicates that women apologise more frequently than men.
It usually pre-empts a message that we find difficult to deliver in attempt to soften the message. For many of us it is simply out of habit. I’ve sat side-by-side in meetings with colleagues whom I admire for their intelligence and strength, but when they start their statement with an apology it takes the conviction out of their argument.
“It can make you look too passive or indecisive — and might eventually create the sense that you lack confidence,” international business speaker Michael Kerr.
By overusing “Sorry” it becomes meaningless. When you apologise you want it to be genuine and sincere, but overuse waters down its impact and can even seem sarcastic.
One easy step
I’ve started paying closer attention to when I say “Sorry” at work and in personal relationships. Written communication is more deliberate than verbal so that is an easy place to start. I backspace “Sor…” in a lot of emails and text messages!
I have been conscious of not apologising for adhering to company policy even when it inconveniences a co-worker or a guest. “Never be sorry for sticking up for your beliefs and showing integrity,” says Kerr. I do not apologise for decisions based on my ethics.
Instead of softening a message, I write emails that are convincing, factual and effective.
What you can say instead
I focus on maintaining eye contact and projecting confidence when engaged in uncomfortable conversations that might tempt me to blurt out “Sorry, but…”
Instead, you can try “I hear what you are saying” or “I know this is difficult”.
Don’t say anything at all! When things are quiet and tense we feel the need to say something. Get comfortable with silence and always remember to keep eye contact and remain confident.
When should you say sorry?
When do I say sorry? When I’ve made a mistake and I need to take full accountability for my error. And when I say it, I mean it.