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What are you apologising for?

What are you apologising for?

We all do it, especially at work. So why is it that we like to apologise and say sorry so much? We look at this fascinating topic in more detail and argue that unless it’s absolutely necessary, we should consider other more effective ways of getting our message across.

It may well be a cultural thing but by continually using words such as ‘apologies’ or ‘sorry’ you’re not only appearing to be less confident but you’re giving out the signal that you’re invading someone’s time or somehow doing something wrong. But we’re all colleagues, we’re all working towards a common goal, so in most cases we would argue there isn’t really any cause to apologise.

Two typical cases are 1) the use of the word in emails – ‘apologies for the late reply’ or ‘apologies I missed your email etc. and the in person ‘(really) sorry to bother you but can I ask/would you be able to…’ etc. In the former, you might come across as less than honest (why didn’t you reply sooner?) so why not get straight to the point and resolve the problem, so ‘how about we fix a time to discuss?’

As for the latter, why are you sorry? You’re only asking someone’s help. If we can’t find time to help our colleagues and members of our team, then something is clearly wrong. Let them be the ones to give you a reason why the cannot help. As Jen Fisher, Chief Wellbeing Officer at Deloitte, says in an article published on Thrive Global, “But that’s all the more reason not to apologise when we’re making a perfectly reasonable request.”

Learning to say ‘no’

Think about how you’d react in your personal life with family and loved ones. Apologies would be reserved for more important matters or in cases where it’s warranted, depending on what you’ve done wrong. Fisher goes on talk about the need for us to ‘make adjustments’ if we need to, so if you’re constantly late, rather than always apologising for it, make sure you change your routine so that you’re on time! If you have made a mistake, honesty is always the best policy, so acknowledge it and say what you’ve learnt to ensure that things will run smoother next time.

That said, in cases where you’re the one who have been affected by the actions of the other person, you must show empathy towards that person. Especially for those in management or leadership positions,  you must seek to ask and understand if there are reasons, perhaps to do with the person’s personal life, that has affected their mood and performance at work. Worker wellbeing must always be a priority, which has been so severely tested during the pandemic.

Often, you have to say no if we’ve got too much on to preserve our own sanity – there’s no need to apologise for it! While it comes naturally to some, others are pleasers and helping others gives them a huge amount of satisfaction. If you’re up against it, just be polite and leave the other person feeling that you genuinely want to help – give them a timescale and an assurance that you will look into it – or point them in the direction of someone who can help.

There may well be times when an apology is the right thing (and more often than not, it will be accepted). But unless we’ve really done something that truly warrants a ‘sorry’, let’s break the habit. As Fisher says, “So let’s not be sorry about maintaining the power of such an important tool by not overusing it.”

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