Many people find it natural to apologize after certain events, even when it is not necessary to do so. Overapologizing, though, can be counterproductive, particularly at work. It may diminish your reputation, undermine your self-worth, and lessen the significance of any subsequent apologies.
According to Patrice Williams Lindo, CEO of Career Nomad, a career-advising company, the tendency may stem from a sense of insecurity and may be common among women and people of color.
“Especially from the standpoint of a black woman, we are taught culturally to be extremely modest and to minimize our victories. I grew up in that manner,” “says Lindo. “Being arrogant in the way you talked about yourself and your achievements was an issue. We consequently experience insecurity and feel like outsiders.”
The desire to apologize excessively, according to Lindo, stems from this habit of self-doubt. Recognizing when to say “I’m sorry” and when not to is the first step in learning more appropriate replacement phrases. Here are three typical situations where you could be inclined to apologize excessively and what you might want to say in their place.
If you’re experiencing technical difficulties,
Hybrid and remote work gained popularity in the last few years, causing people to use their electronic devices more than ever. Unfortunately, no matter how tech-savvy you are, technical difficulties are bound to occur. And they usually aren’t your fault.
Could you think about a glitchy video call, for example? You might feel compelled to apologize if it takes a long time for a presentation to load, if buttons malfunction, or if there’s another technical lag. “I’m sorry’ is often a phrase that people use when they need to fill space,” Lindo says. “They aren’t comfortable with silence.”
Instead of apologizing for things you can’t change, say things like “I appreciate your patience” and “Thank you for working with me” to get past any awkwardness and regain your confidence.
If you need to join a conversation,
Let’s say you’re present at a meeting that a colleague is leading. Someone raises a point with which you agree or disagree, and you want to share your viewpoint.
You might interject by saying, “Sorry, but I’d like to weigh in.” This situation does not require an apology, as Lindo points out. “If you have information to add to a conversation or an opposing point of view, that’s completely OK,” she says. “People use ‘I’m sorry in these situations to penetrate the conversation and have their voice heard when they don’t have to.”
Instead of apologizing, use phrases like ’”I’d love to add,” “I think that,” or “Here’s a different perspective.” These phrases help you contribute without sounding scared to do so. Lindo says to assess the situation before you speak using the STAR (situation, task, action, and result) method, which can alleviate the need to apologize.
“Let’s say you want to express an opposing point. First, consider the situation and ask yourself, ‘Is this an appropriate time?’ If not, think about what task you can do, maybe reaching out to a manager or advisor before saying something you may have to apologize for,” she explains.
“Decide what action you want to take, and ask yourself, “What result am I looking for after this conversation?”
If you’ve made an error,
We all make mistakes, especially at work. If you’ve done a task incorrectly or accidentally offended someone, saying “I’m sorry” wouldn’t be the wrong response, but it wouldn’t be the most robust response.
“When you do something wrong, the reply doesn’t have to be ‘I’m sorry,’” Lindo says. “You can speak to the action you’ll take to investigate or resolve the problem.”
Other phrases can better show that you’re ready to do what it takes to make the situation right. Those can include: “Thank you for the feedback.”
“I take full responsibility.” “I appreciate your bringing that to my attention — how can I improve?” Lindo notes that a sincere apology isn’t bad, but it’s ideal to say “I’m sorry” only when you genuinely mean it to ensure it comes across as genuine.