Taking the blame for situations you cannot control is easy to do but hard to stop. Everyone has that coworker who starts a sentence with an apology. A coworker asks for clarification on a project, and they begin their reply with, “I’m sorry, I should have explained that more clearly.” Or, they’re having trouble getting their laptop to connect with the web-conferencing software, and they say, “I’m sorry, no idea why this is being so finicky.”
The problem with these “sorrys”? First, they make one sound less self-assured. Second, they’re unnecessary—most of the time the apologizer is not at fault (or if they are, it’s a small mistake). Third, they lessen the meaningfulness of genuine apologies.
Strive to say “sorry” less. Here are three techniques to get out of this habit.
1. Pause before apologizing
Every time you’re tempted to say “sorry,” take a breath. This second can provide the chance to figure out whether you should be apologizing, or if it’s just a reflex. When it’s the latter, skip the sorry.
2. Find alternatives
There are plenty of ways to express sympathy, kindness, and consideration without the S-word. Start looking for other phrases or expressions you can use. For example, if you’re asked to repeat yourself in a meeting, you might say, “Thanks for the feedback, can you hear me better now?” instead of “Sorry, I’ll try to speak up.”
Rather than writing “Apologies for the delay” when you don’t respond to an email right away, opt for “Thank you for your patience.” When someone follows up, say “Thanks for checking back in” in place of “Sorry you had to chase me down.”
3. (Tactfully) call out your coworkers
Once you start paying attention to the frequency of your apologies, you’ll notice when your coworkers do it, too. It’s easy to use gratuitously. Start responding to their apologies with “No need to say sorry” or sometimes even asking, “Why are you sorry?”
The typical response: “You’re right, I said that by reflex” or “I know it’s not a big deal, I just instinctively said sorry.”
Although this can be a little uncomfortable at first, your entire team will become more conscious of when and why they apologize. Then, they can reserve their apologies for situations that truly warrant them.