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Why You Should Not Apologize Too Much At Work

Why You Should Not Apologize Too Much At Work

“I’m sorry” is the ultimate peacemaker. When something warrants an apology, it’s surprising the difference a single phrase can make.

But it can also be the smooth transition when feeling awkward stating a fact, the fallback qualifier when trying not to come across as too aggressive, or even an over-compensation for a generally uncomfortable situation.

There’s been a lot of talk lately around how much people, particularly women, apologize at work. A recent article in the New York Times talks about why women apologize and why they should stop. Another post by women’s career advice platform, Levo League, talks about how apologizing too much lessens co-workers’ respect for the apologizer.

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A lot of the arguments for women trimming our vocabularies of words such as “sorry”, “just”, and “like” make sense. If we tend to over-use these comfort phrases, it becomes difficult for others to grasp what we’re trying to say and believe that we mean it.

If there’s too much flirting around a statement, people start to wonder if we know what we’re talking about.

It’s also a matter of developing the skill of self-editing. Both in the written and spoken word, it’s important to say what you mean without muddying the message with unnecessary and distracting words. It makes the concept heavy, harder to grasp and can come across as just plain sloppy.

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Some people are offended by the assertion that women need to monitor their speech patterns, even seeing it as sexist in that women have to adjust their natural instinctive way of speaking to conform to what a male-driven society has laid out as acceptable.

While there may be some validity to this, from a psychological standpoint apologizing too much can make you come across as weak or insecure. Taking it even further, some researchers say over apologizing can come across as subtly insubordinate or even passive aggressive.

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Womans Hand Golding Pretty Spring Flowers

    At the very least it can dilute the phrase to a point where it becomes disingenuous. When an occurrence actually calls for a apology, say forgetting to send an important document that stalls a big project versus explaining how a program works to a new hire, the phrase will be so worn out and standard in your vocabulary, that it will be hard to take seriously. Crying wolf syndrome in the professional realm.

    Women do tend to over-apologize more than men due to their natural tendency to seek harmony and having a lower threshold for offensive behavior. Women also may be more socially attuned than men, to a point where they scrutinize their own innocuous actions into hurtful ones.

    Statistics aside, over-apologizing at work can breach the gender gap, as psychotherapist Beverly Engel notes, “Children of parents who teach them to take responsibility for any problems or issues that come up often become over-apologizers, as do children whose parents teach them that apologizing is a form of politeness.”

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    If you’re worried that not saying sorry will make you come across as mean, consider that some people will actually take incessant apologizing as a social cue of someone trying to elicit an apology from them. This can make them feel you’re trying to manipulate them. Or at the least it can make many situations more confusing and awkward than they needed to be.

    Whatever the ingrained reasons for apologizing too much, it’s a habit worth breaking in the workplace for both men and women. It fundamentally puts the speaker at a disadvantage in a conversation. Especially when an apology isn’t necessary, it can make you come across as a people-pleaser to a fault and a easy mark for someone to take advantage of.

    As over-apologizers tend to be over-analyzers in general, it’s important that you don’t stress yourself over this! Saying you’re sorry too much is often just a confidence issue, and confidence can be built up a little at a time.

    Try just standing up a little straighter, looking people in the eye when you speak, shaking hands with certainty, and, as the old adage goes, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” And try not to tag it with an apprehensive, “Sorry.”

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    Hannah Glenn

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    Last Updated on March 29, 2021

    5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

    5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

    When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

    What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

    The Dream Type Of Manager

    My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

    I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

    My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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    “Okay…”

    That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

    I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

    The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

    The Bully

    My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

    However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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    The Invisible Boss

    This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

    It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

    The Micro Manager

    The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

    Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

    The Over Promoted Boss

    The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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    You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

    The Credit Stealer

    The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

    Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

    3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

    Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

    1. Keep evidence

    Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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    Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

    Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

    2. Hold regular meetings

    Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

    3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

    Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

    However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

    Good luck!

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