Stop Saying ‘Sorry’

It seeps your power

Like Comment

“I’m so sorry, Oh sorry about that, hey there sorry to bother you, Oh, sorry it’s only Jane” – and on it goes. Saying sorry when, in truth, we don’t really mean we’re sorry. It’s often more about something to say than necessary and it’s a slippery, dangerous slope if you want to be taken seriously at work.

When I sat with a client (let’s call her Hilary), for the first time, we talked about what she thought was going on which meant she felt so stuck, so undervalued, so small – as she said. Hilary’s boss had asked me to work with Hilary to give her more confidence when communicating so she’d be ready to take on more responsibility. Her boss was very smart – she knew she had an excellent PA in Hilary who was loyal, efficient and super-smart and she knew she needed to kick her sorry habit if she was going to be an Exec PA and represent her at the C-Suite Board level.

As I sat with Hilary that first meeting, I quietly noticed how many times she said ‘sorry’ – it was about 15 times in the first explanation of her career history and after a while I was conscious of listening less to the story and the details and listening more for the number of times she said Sorry. Not good.

If you hear someone say “Sorry but” or “Sorry no” or “Sorry to say” it actually does 2 things in the moment – it tells you something’s up, that I think something’s not right and you actually can put people on the defensive or on the look out for some bad news.

There is a gender thing going on here too and it’s worth noting.

As women, we’re hard wired to keep the peace, to help relationships flourish and we don’t like, as a rule to upset people. It’s often why so many women shy away from conflict. Men, on the other hand, have a much higher threshold for what behaviour is acceptable and what and when an apology is needed. Men will often ride roughshod over things believing that if it happened to them, they’d be OK with it rather, than, as women, we worry and fret about whether we’ll upset the applecart, about what people will think of us and will they still like us. This of course, doesn’t help our case at work.

In general, men also don’t automatically take the blame or responsibility for things and this, I believe, is something we as women can learn a lot from for ourselves. A man is much more likely to blame outside forces or circumstances on things going off “the conditions were just too tough” or “the market turned just at the wrong time” rather than “I’m so sorry, I just didn’t see it coming” – not jumping forward to take responsibility for things which are so often outside of our control.

So – I want to invite you to:

  • Watch and notice if and how other people apologise and the effect it has on you.
  • Notice if it is just something to say OR if they genuinely mean it.
  • Also, notice yourself – if you don’t really mean it, you’ve just got the feeling you need to say something, then just stay silent. Pause.
  • Take a breath, AND here’s something else to say instead. Say thanks. Thank you. Instead of ‘Oh, sorry for interrupting’ you can say “thanks for sparing me a moment” or instead of saying “Sorry if I’m going on too long” you can say “thanks for giving me your attention a little while longer” What this does is very, very useful. It presumes the other person is going to give you their attention or spare you a moment and empowers you. Far more useful and, in fact, truthful.

Known as the Savvy & Influential Communication Expert, our Life Labs contributor, Kay White, is hosting a unique 3-day Live Event “Show Up; Sparkle & Be Heard LIVE” in London on 9, 10, 11 June and as a guest of Psychologies, use the code GLITTERBALL and take 50% off your seat.

Let’s make it your time to shine at work without selling your soul. When would now be a better time to go for Promotion, Recognition and Rewards all while being true to yourself?

For further immediate ‘shots’ of inspiration and tactics on showing up at work in a way which gets you heard and understood, try Kay’s Weekly Podcast on iTunes:Show Up; Sparkle & Be Heard . They’re short and snappy and full of tips to inspire and guide you at work.

Kay White

Savvy & Influential Communication for Ambitious Women in Business,