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Instead of Saying Sorry, Say This Instead

Over-apologizing can undercut your authority in the workplace. Here's how to pivot.

A black felt letter board (on a grey carpet background) that says

Overusing the words, “I’m sorry” is a cultural phenomenon that has woven itself in and around the workplace. Chronic apologizing is a thing that plagues women more than it does men. While apologizing in a professional setting may feel empathetic or accommodating, it’s actually been rendered quite meaningless—and now simply undercuts how confident you look in your own abilities.

For all of my over-apologizers out there, here’s what we should learn to say instead. 

Instead of saying, “Sorry,” could you say, “Thank You?"

The scenario: A deadline is coming up, and you’ve hit a few more obstacles than anticipated. Your project won’t be presentable in time.

The action: 
A few days before deadline, send out an email that very efficiently explains the scenario (no excuses!), followed by your plan of action with a new proposed deadline. Instead of apologizing, thank them for their patience. 

 “While we’ve hit a few more roadblocks than anticipated, we will be presenting this project by Wednesday of next week. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”


Apologize, but don’t say, “sorry.”

The scenario: You communicated the wrong number in a sale initiative at work, and now the designers have to make new assets. 

The action: An apology isn’t about the word, “sorry”— it’s about taking responsibility and making sure an error (when in your control) doesn’t happen again. Making an apology without that five letter word will help bring clarity to the situation, for all parties involved.

Example: “I take full responsibility for that miscommunication, and I appreciate you bringing it to my attention. In the future, I will go through the necessary steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”


Whatever you do, do NOT apologize for “being a bother” 

The scenario: Your colleague is leading a meeting, but you’ve noticed an error in his presentation that may affect the necessary next steps. 

The action: 
Speak up, without apologizing for the interruption. So many times, we’re tempted to say something like, “sorry, I don’t mean to overstep, but can I butt in for a minute?” A sentiment like that not only undercuts your authority, it also sets the precedent that what you have to say might be less important than others’ thoughts. Wait for a pause in the presentation so as not to rudely interject (jot it down if you have to), and then be assertive with your comment. 

“Can we please go back to slide 6? I believe we decided on a different direction, but want to double check with the team before we go into next steps.” 

Alternative scenario: 
You have a question for your boss, but she’s always busy and you don’t want to bother her.

Action: Again, be assertive. Your boss will probably always be busy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get answers that you need to do your job well.

Example: “Is now a good time for a quick question?” That’s it. Don’t overthink, just do. 

Saying, “sorry” may not yield results. Asking for constructive feedback does. 

The scenario: Your boss is not entirely happy with the deck you made for a new sale initiative. 

The action: Wanting to apologize may come from a place of anxiousness, or even low self-esteem. Feed two birds with one hand—try asking for feedback to help build your confidence and establish your professional value.

Example: “Can you please give me feedback regarding what I can do differently to satisfy your expectations & objectives?”

Remember that actions have always spoken louder than words. 

The scenario: When used sparingly, apologies can be very effective. When used chronically, they’re a detriment to the confidence a team may have in you. 

The action: Seek course correction & viable solutions in the place of a thrown-around, “sorry.” Over time, it’ll strengthen your respectability and trustworthiness in your place of work. 


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