October 20, 2021
I stopped being sorry a few years ago and my career and professional relationships are better for it. Have you apologized for being a few minutes late to a call, for having an opinion, or even for offering a vital fact that is essential to the conversation? In the past, I kept apologizing. Instead of offering my valuable professional opinion based on decades of work, I would say, “I just wanted to point out…” or “You probably thought of this, but…”. This behavior is especially odd because I am an environmental consultant. I’m paid to give my interpretation of data, but something within me wanted to apologize for doing my job. I thought that deference was appropriate, given the power I felt I had, or that I was being polite by not appearing too opinionated or direct.
Women need to stop apologizing. Begin with your emails and drop the word “just” out of the sentences. You can leave out “I feel” or “I think” and fill in those spaces with evidence, observations, and facts. There is no need to ask, “Am I making sense?” “Am I being clear?” A simple “Do you have any questions?” will do. After you have become proficient with your emails, focus on your verbal interactions and your responses will become second nature.
I’m not advocating being inconsiderate or impolite. We should all strive for professionalism, but inevitably you will be late to a meeting. You could waste more time in the meeting apologizing and explaining that your last call went long or that you had to chase your dog down the street, but I suggest a more direct approach along the lines of, “I’m here now, I recognize everyone’s time is valuable. Do I need to be caught up?” You are not the first person to be late to a meeting—and you won’t be the last.
There are times when an apology is in order, and you will know it. If your actions or words have caused harm, such as causing someone to feel marginalized, disrespected or hurt, then that is truly regrettable and deserves an apology. Contrast such situations with a mistake such as a typo or forgotten attachment, and you’ll see they are quite different. An appropriate answer to someone pointing out your mistake could be, “Thank you for pointing that out. That’s not up to my standards and I’ll fix it right away.”
As you grow to trust your instincts and value your own time and opinions, you’ll find it easier to stop being sorry. You will find your way to direct, considerate and inclusive communication without the need to diminish yourself in the process.