Stop apologizing at work
“Sorry”, « Excuse me”, “Pardon me”, how many times a day do apologize?
Some say that apologizing is part of our Canadian culture. It may give us a great reputation as we travel the globe, but over the course of your career, it could hurt your character and hinder your ascent to your dream job.
Sometimes your apology is necessary, but often it is expressed without any rhyme or reason. These words of presumed compassion are too often said to mask uneasiness, embarrassment or fear of asserting one’s self and being fully accountable for one’s position, opinion and actions.
Other’s perception of those who apologize too much? A lack of confidence and conviction. By showing insecurity, too much apologizing could hurt your credibility. And, if you constantly apologize, when the time comes for you to sincerely say that you are sorry, it may be trivialized.
This article aims to enlighten you so you may choose the right words and actions in lieu of deferring to false humility, and to help you shine as a trustworthy and credible professional who cohesively talks and acts. You will also find out the times when you imperatively must apologize and how to do so sincerely.
I- PRESENT THE FACTS
When technology is lacking, the equipment is not working or you are in the middle of an emergency that is beyond your control, it is usually not your fault. In such cases, you do not have to apologize. You should instead mention the situation and then present a solution or options.
Instead of: « I apologize that the image for our videoconferencing isn’t working. »
Say: « The image for our videoconferencing does not work. I’ll give you a ten-minute break while I coordinate conference call. Within five minutes, you will all be emailed the link. »
II- ASK FOR HELP
On a daily basis, you are faced with situations that require support, advice and answers from your boss, colleagues or suppliers, at varying degrees of urgency. You may phone, knock on a door or stop the one that crosses your path. Inevitably, you are interrupting his or her flow. It’s normal, it’s part of team dynamics.
Unless you are a chronovore (time eater), stop apologizing. Ask if the time is right. Add the duration of time that you need their attention for. This mention facilitates the other’s decision to grant you the time, or not, or to suggest another moment.
Instead of: « I’m sorry to bother you, but I need your help. »
Say: « I have a difficult situation with a long-time employee, and I would like your opinion. Is this a good time? Ten minutes should suffice. «
If you think that you are the one that others call « chronovore », lose this bad habit by being more strategic in your requests for support. Analyze your daily activities and note the time they take. Schedule your appointments and calls with invitations that detail the needed length of time. Do not go overtime. Leave or end the meeting when you said you would.
III- TAKE ACTION
When you are in a meeting where you were invited, it is never necessary to precede what you have to say with « I apologize, but I would like to speak » or, « Excuse me for interrupting”. You have been invited because they believe that what you have to say is pertinent and important. Wait for a lull and speak.
By beginning with excuses, you prepare the others to be defensive, you minimize your purpose and reduce your power.
Say what you have to say and do what you need to do. Take your place, without excuses. Even when you do not agree.
Instead of: « I apologize, but I do not agree. »
Say: « I have another perspective that I will present to you. »
IV- SAY WHAT YOU MEAN
Do not start by apologizing, announce right away what you want. Then, take action. Add the time needed. This reassures and demonstrates that you are in control of your time and respect their time.
Instead of: « I’m sorry to spend so much time on my part, but there are many factors and it’s complicated. »
Say: « The stakes are multiple and complex. It is important to detail so all may understand their consequences. Fifteen minutes will suffice. »
V-RECOGNIZE AND THANK
In the heat of the moment, instead of giving a detailed apology, recognize the situation and the obstacles or challenges and find a way to thank. In the case of a schedule or a deadline that must be postponed, it is imperative to add the new schedule.
Instead of: « I’m sorry. I am overwhelmed. It is impossible for me to give you the report of the last three months for Thursday. »
Say: « We had a great last quarter! I thank you for your patience throughout this process. I’m almost done. I will give you the report on Friday before noon. »
When the other person shares a difficult situation, observe and feel their emotions with empathy; transposing their reality. When it is convenient, add how you can help or support. Make sure your suggestions are realistic and achievable.
Instead of: « Oh, I’m sorry. «
Say: « It’s not easy what you are going through. I understand why it could be difficult for you. I have a cancelled meeting this afternoon. I have a free hour that I could dedicate to the review of your document. «
VI- WHEN IT IS NECESSARY, HOW TO APOLOGIZE
When you hurt someone, when you make a mistake, or you arrive late, saying « I’m sorry » soothes and repairs. “I’m sorry” is the beginning of the pacification of the situation, the possible return to trust and in some cases, it can protect your reputation.
- As soon as you realize that you may have hurt or caused uneasiness, do not delay, apologize as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it is. The longer it takes for you to apologize, the more the other ruminates and the more resentment may settle in.
- Apologize in person. Your eye contact and your body language along with the right tone reinforce the sincerity of your message; your words.
- Recognize the consequences. Describe how your actions or words have an impact on a project, a schedule or affect your relationship. Explain why you were wrong. Do not add excuses.
- Accept responsibility for your actions. « I am really sorry. I regret the harm that I may have caused.” Show that you are repentant.
- Explain briefly. Be direct without going on and on. Be careful not to justify yourself.
- Mention the repair actions. Be authentic and transparent about what you can do to fix your mistake. When in doubt, ask what would be appreciated. Do not make false promises.
- Accept the fall-out consequences. Absorb and learn. Don’t do it again.
Never apologize to soften the message, when you are scared or when you are afraid of not being « loved”. You are in your role to contribute to the well-being of the company, your employer and of the objectives. It is not a popularity contest. For sticky situations, start with: « What I have to say is difficult ». Pause and observe. This benevolence sensitively predisposes the other to listen.
Translated from published article in La référence RH for Éditions Yvon Blais Thomson Reuters (c) Julie Blais Comeau 2019