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Creating Successful Leaders

As young children, most of us were taught good manners. Say please and thank you. Ask for permission. If you mess up or hurt someone, say, “I’m sorry.” While these lessons can be very helpful, sometimes they carry over into adulthood a little too strongly. Specifically, many of us end up apologizing for things that do not require an apology.

What do I mean?

Let’s say you’re in a meeting and someone presents incorrect data. You’re very familiar with the data that should have been presented, so you decide to speak up. Your inclination might be to say something like, “Sorry, but I have to weigh in here…” or “Sorry, but those numbers aren’t quite right…”

Who are you apologizing to? And why?

In truth, there’s no need to be sorry. You’re helping out the team by providing the correct data. The word “Sorry” makes it sound like you did something wrong or hurtful, when that isn’t the case. Instead, you might rephrase your statement to, “I’d like to provide some additional information…” or “If I may, I’d like to offer a different perspective…”

You also don’t need to apologize for technical difficulties, asking someone for clarification, or missing work due to an illness (or a child’s illness). Instead of saying, “Sorry, my microphone wasn’t working,” say, “Thank you for your patience while I dealt with tech issues.” Instead of saying, “Sorry I can’t come in today,” say, “I appreciate your flexibility.”

Why Do We Over Apologize?

There are a few different reasons why we might find ourselves overusing the word “Sorry.” We might be apologizing out of politeness or because we don’t want to impose on other people. We may not be sure of ourselves and feel like we need to back our statements up with an apology.

In some cases, apologizing too much can actually weaken our arguments. It gives off the perception that we are unsure of our statements, even if that’s not the case. It also takes away from our confidence and makes us come off as less assertive.

Women are especially guilty of “over apologizing.” A study by the University of Waterloo in Canada shows that women apologize much more frequently than men. The reason, they say, is because men “have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.” Women, take note! Speaking up during a meeting probably isn’t offensive. Having a different opinion, or showing up a few minutes late, or sneezing during a meeting isn’t offensive.

Taking Back Your Power

If you feel that you overuse “I’m sorry” in situations that don’t require an apology, take a step back and analyze your speech patterns. Pay attention to how often you use the word and if you’re using it when it’s unnecessary.

From there, try to change your language. Instead of apologizing, opt for phrases like “Thanks for understanding” or “I appreciate it.” You’ll sound more confident and in control of the discussion. Plus, it won’t take away your power or make it look like you’re trying to diminish your authority.

It is important to understand when an apology is necessary, and when it is not. Being aware of our language and speech patterns can help us realize if we are overusing the phrase “I’m sorry.” Changing our language to sound more confident and in control can be a powerful tool for assertiveness, and re-phrasing our statements with phrases can help us take back the power in those situations. Practicing these techniques can help make sure we know when an apology is truly necessary.



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