For many people, saying “I’m sorry” after certain situations, even those that don’t require an apology, is second nature. But overapologizing can backfire, especially in the workplace. It can make others think less of you, lower your self-esteem, and dampen the impact of future apologies.
The habit can come from a place of insecurity, and it can be especially common among women and people of color, says Patrice Williams Lindo, CEO of Career Nomad, a career consulting firm.
“We are taught culturally, especially from a black woman’s perspective, to be super humble and to downplay our wins. That’s how I was raised,” Lindo says. “It was a problem to be prideful in how you spoke about yourself and your accomplishments. So we feel inadequate and insecure.”
Lindo says that the need to over-apologize is born from this pattern of self-doubt, and recognizing situations when you should and shouldn’t say “I’m sorry” is one of the first steps to finding better phrases to use instead. Here are three common scenarios where you might be tempted to over-apologize and what to consider saying instead.
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 out of your control, use phrases like “I appreciate your patience” and “Thank you for working with me” to overcome any awkwardness and reinstate an air of confidence.
If you need to join a conversation,
Let’s say you’re at a meeting that a coworker is in charge of. Someone brings up a point that you either agree with or disagree with, and you want to say what you think. You might say, “I’m sorry, but I’d like to add my two cents.” Lindo points out that there’s no need to apologise in this case.
“It’s totally fine if you have something to add to a conversation or an opposing point of view,” she says. “In these situations, people say “I’m sorry” to break into the conversation and make themselves heard when they don’t have to.” Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” try saying “I’d love to add,” “I think that,” or “Let me give you a different view.” These phrases will help you give your opinion without sounding scared.
Lindo says to use the STAR (situation, task, action, and result) method to evaluate the situation before you speak. This can help you avoid having to say you’re sorry. ” Say you want to say something different.
First, think about what’s going on and ask yourself, “Is this the right time?” If not, think about what you can do, like talk to a manager or advisor before you say something you might have to take back “she tells us. “Decide what you want to do and ask yourself, ‘What do I want this conversation to lead to?'”
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 decisive 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.