If there’s anything Brits are known for, it’s an obsession with saying ‘sorry’.
We constantly apologise without considering the implications behind the word and a lot of the time we do it when there isn’t actually anything to apologise for.
This is especially true in the workplace, where we are inherently polite to our colleagues for fear of offending people that we might not know so well outside of the office environment.
Being able to admit when you’re in the wrong is a valuable trait, but there is a danger in saying sorry too often – and doing it as a reflex.
Here are a few examples:
You’re assigned to work on a project with a colleague, and you’re both given a deadline by your boss. You finish your work in time but the other person doesn’t.
The boss then yells at both of you and instead of speaking up for yourself, you take all or part of the blame and apologise.
There’s nothing wrong with having each others’ backs at work – in fact, it can create a stronger bond between colleagues – but there are ways to explain the situation to your manager without having to utter the ‘s’ word.
‘So in the case of being blamed for something being partially your fault – by saying sorry, you’re accepting full responsibility. But the fault isn’t entirely ours, and we can’t fix things if we haven’t done anything wrong,’ Karen Kwong, founder of the business consultancy Renoc, tells Metro.co.uk.
‘At times, it would seem childish and churlish to blame others too, especially in particularly sensitive circumstances. However, the other person/people need to bear the responsibility too.’
Let’s look at a different scenario.
Your superior is having a bad day – they’re snappy, rude and unhelpful.
Because you’re afraid of rocking the boat even further, you try your best to be accommodating. Perhaps you apologise for taking a full lunch hour (even though it is your right as an employee) or maybe your boss is in such a bad mood that they give you a task without actually explaining how you should complete it.
‘Sorry, but I’m not exactly sure what you wanted me to do with it, really sorry if I’ve misunderstood,’ you say (or something along these lines).
Your workplace should be a safe space where you feel able to speak up if you need help – without having to feel guilty about it. It’s part of a manager’s job to assist his or her employees, so if anything they should apologise to you in this scenario.
Alexandra Lichtenfeld, a business mentor for Client Matters, tells Metro.co.uk that constantly admitting fault can be connected to fear and insecurities.
‘Employees often feel the need to apologise for a number of reasons,’ she says.
‘Fear of losing their job if they speak out, not knowing what to say or how to say it with confidence, worries about being singled out or concerns about not getting a reference if they make a complaint and choose to leave the company are all key factors.’
This guilt doesn’t jut affect junior team members. A new manager might also find themselves apologising, because they are afraid of asserting themselves for fear of their team pushing back.
‘Experiencing unpleasantness at work is not just confined to junior staff – many senior staff fall victim to unfair treatment too,’ says Alexandra.
‘Knowing that you are being treated badly at work can place employees in extremely challenging positions, and is likely to knock their confidence.’
Regardless of which position you’re in, try your best not to throw the word around because it can have very real consequences.
Karen explains: ‘Because while you’re too busy trying to be an upstanding citizen in the workplace, you’re actually undermining yourself, one “I’m sorry” at a time.
‘In the first scenario, not evading responsibility is a good thing. However, by apologising so quickly and on behalf of others merely points to you being insecure and a weak link in the argument. This then detriments all the good work you have done.
‘In the second, by apologising for something that you have nothing to apologise for subconsciously reiterates to your boss that he/she is superior and he/she can get away with saying anything and you’ll take the fall for it and apologise.’
If you recognise this behaviour in yourself, it’s time to make some productive changes.
Helen May, an executive coach with learning and leadership experience, explains how you can become better at not saying sorry.
‘The first step to stopping this is to recognise when it is happening,’ she tells us.
‘Become mindful of the situations where your esteem is low and you feel that you should apologise. Then, remove yourself from the situation in order to give it consideration before you respond.
‘So, for example, if you have received criticism or negative feedback, thank the other person and say that you would like time to think about what they have said before you respond.
‘Speak to a trusted colleague or friend and recount the feedback, as well as your feelings about it. Allow your colleague to help you see the situation objectively.
‘You can then return to the individual who gave you the feedback and give a considered response, admitting where you feel you were at fault and where you feel the feedback is unfair.’
This applies to emails, instant communication and texts – don’t write a reply in a rush if it’s a sensitive matter.
Compile a response, then step away from your desk for a few minutes or just take a break by looking at something else, and re-read the email afterwards. Look for apologetic words like ‘just’, ‘sorry’, ‘apologies’, ‘I’m afraid that..’ and consider if they should be included.
Avoid being confrontational or passive aggressive – it will only make you appear petty and may backfire.
Karen says: ‘If your boss calls you out for something you did not do, ask them questions around why they have made such accusations and how they came to those conclusions.
‘It need not be confrontational. You’re merely gathering facts.
‘You may wish to suggest that your understanding is not theirs and if you are really under pressure, just say you’ll investigate and revert. Again, showing that you are responsible but you have healthy boundaries and you won’t be messed around.’
Just remember that whether it’s at work or in your personal ife, you deserve to be treated with respect – but you also need to assertive and demand that respect for yourself.
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