How To Stop Apologising At Work

Posted July 23, 2019, by Elesha

There’s a time and a place for apologising at work but saying sorry to your boss when SHE spills HER coffee on YOUR desk is not one of them. Over-apologising at work could damage your professional reputation and leave you feeling resentful and fed up. If you’re stuck in the “I’m sorry” habit, here are our tips on how and why to stop apologising at work. 

Are You Stuck In The “I’m sorry” Habit?

Apologising can work it’s way into our communication so subtly we might not even realise how often we actually say sorry. If you find yourself saying sorry all the time in the following types of situations, you’ve got an apology habit –

  • When you say  no 
  • Having an opinion 
  • On behalf of someone else / a mistake not your own 
  • Feeling emotional 
  • Asking for help
  • Taking care of your own needs/priorities 
  • Situations where no apology is necessary

The Problem With Over Apologising At Work

When apologising at work becomes a reflex reaction, it can create a few issues.

It conveys a lack of confidence

If you want to show up as your best, most confident self at work, you’ve got to drop the constant apologising – it isn’t doing you any favours in the credibility department. You’ll seem uncertain if you’re always taking on the blame and your desire for approval may seem to trump your self-respect. Always apologising to other people can erode your working relationships and your self-esteem. 

It begins to sound insincere 

A genuine apology in the right situation comes across as sincere and can quickly zap tension from a misunderstanding or error. However, apologising at work too much has the opposite effect – it begins to sound insincere and detracts from the clarity of your message. It becomes a word without meaning. 

It might compromise your professional values

We all have core professional and personal values we stand for – those values should be rock solid and we don’t need to apologise for having them. If we apologise too much in situations where our values may be compromised, we focus on what other people think to be right or wrong, instead of standing firm on what we believe. 

It builds resentment

Sometimes we apologise just to smooth over a situation with a colleague or in an effort to move on – even if we’re not at fault. While the ‘pick your battles’ approach can be a smart one, always playing the peacemaker and apologising too often will lead to resenting your co-workers. 

How To Stop Apologising So Much

Like breaking the sugar habit of your daily 3pm Snickers bar, learning to stop apologising at work so much does take a bit of effort. 

We can’t help you with your Snickers addiction but here a few tips on curbing your apology habit.

Swap sorry for thank you

Turn “I can’t make the meeting on Friday, I’m sorry!” into “I can’t make the meeting on Friday, thank you for understanding.”

Offer a solution

Instead of “I’m running behind on the deadline, I underestimated research time – I’m sorry!” try “I’m behind on the deadline, but I’ve really dived into the research and we can add a few more great case studies if we can extend another day.”

Be ok with silence

Sometimes in an awkward or stressful situation, we may tack ‘sorry’ onto the end of our discussion to ease the tension. Even if we’re not at fault, anything sounds better than tumbleweeds! Instead, try to be ok with the silence, don’t try to fill it in with extra words, just finish the conversation and move on with the next task. 

When Is An Apology Appropriate?

Not all apologies are created equal. Now we’re clear on the kind of things you shouldn’t feel the need to say sorry for, there are definitely times an apology is called for at work.

Maybe you shared tense words with a co-worker, totally messed up on an important deadline or made a really obvious error you should have picked up. 

It happens. Nobody is perfect and these are a few examples of when an apology is appropriate – it can show humility, character, and responsibility.

Say you’re sorry, bring a solution (if appropriate), take any lessons learned on board and move forward. Don’t slip back into over-apologising – you’ll only make the situation a bigger deal than it needs to be. 

Always apologising? Maybe you’re saying Yes at work too much too. Read why being a ‘Yes’ man could be hurting your career. 


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