Sorry Not Sorry: How Apologising In The Workplace Is Ruining Your Career

Colette Sexton, news correspondent at the Sunday Business Post, warns readers: apologise in the workplace at your peril.


I’m sorry, but you are probably saying sorry too often.

Offices are busy places. People are ducking in and out of meeting rooms, of the bathroom, of the front door. Often, two people clash, one trying to go in one direction, one trying to go the other. In those situations, do you find yourself politely standing out of someone’s way or holding a door open but still uttering the word “sorry”?

When there is a disagreement in the workplace, are you the first to attempt to resolve it by saying “sorry” and backtracking on your own opinion?

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What about when you are sending an email or approaching a colleague about some work? Do you initiate the conversation with a “sorry to bother you”? 

These scenarios do not warrant an apology. “Sorry” might seem harmless, a filler word to open a conversation or express empathy. But the truth is that apologising when you are doing nothing wrong damages your credibility in the eyes of others.

Many think that apologising makes them appear nice, polite and friendly. In fact, constantly saying sorry will make others think that you are not confident or not sure of your decisions. This can have an impact on your progression in the workplace, as people might assume you cannot be a good leader as you are not assertive. “Apologising is a modern plague”, according to Lena Dunham, creator of hit TV show Girls.

“But what do you replace sorry with?" she wrote in a post on LinkedIn. "Well for starters, you can replace it with an actual expression of your needs and desires. And it turns out when you express what you want (without a canned and insincere apology) everyone benefits. Your employees know what you want from them and can do their jobs with clarity and pride.” 

Not sure if you fall victim to this over-apologising trend? Try counting the amount of times you say sorry throughout a day, and how often you actually mean it. The results might shock you.

It’s time to banish the “s” word. The next time you bump into someone in the hallway, say “pardon me”. When you need to interrupt a colleague to discuss something, say “excuse me”. If you don’t know the answer to a question, hold back the apologies and tell them you’ll find out. Disagree with a colleague? Don’t apologise for it, explain your reasoning. And before you click send, scan every email you write for the word “sorry” – if you find it, delete it.  

The type of language you use can undermine or enhance arguments, it can gain or lose respect and it can mean the difference between promotion and stagnation.

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So next time, hold back the sorry about to bounce from the tip of your tongue. Be honest, grow a backbone, stand up for yourself and your ideas. It might not just improve your work life – it could have a positive impact on your personal life too.  

Photo by Aman Ravi on Unsplash

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