“Sorry to bother you…”, “sorry for not getting back to you sooner”, “sorry I’m booked this week.” Why are we apologizing all the time? Over-apologizing can have a negative effect on not only your career but, more importantly, your self-esteem. Similar to the overuse of the words, “like/uhm” – “sorry” has become a common space filler within a conversation. According to Patrice Williams Lindo, CEO of Career Nomad, the incessant need to apologize comes from a place of insecurity and is especially common among women and people of color. One of the easiest ways to improve yourself is to make a mistake and learn from it. Be mindful of where you choose to use the phrase, “I’m sorry,” or where you recognize it might not be necessary.

Can over-apologizing have a negative impact on my career?

The short answer is, yes. Research shows apologizing for things you shouldn’t ultimately make you feel worse about yourself, not better – and it causes other people to see you as less competent and confident. When you’re saying sorry all the time, you draw attention to things that otherwise would not have been perceived as a problem and it can hinder your credibility/authority. When a higher-level position becomes vacant, you will likely be overlooked due to your seeming lack of confidence. Additionally, apologizing when it’s unnecessary makes it difficult to deliver a sincere and meaningful apology when it’s actually needed. Similar to the boy who cried wolf, you will be ‘the person who cried apology.’

Why Do People Over-Apologize?

What makes people grow accustomed to this counter-productive habit? While some feel it is due to performance anxiety, or stress others may feel the need to say sorry out of a desire to demonstrate respect. More often, over-apologizing is an unconscious habit that’s annoying at best, and at worst, sends one or more unwanted messages that can have an alternate effect. Think of the last time you may have opened the door to the restroom, and someone happened to be walking out at the same time. You likely apologized, and for what? If you look back to analyze a situation and feel silly for having apologized, it likely wasn’t necessary.

When you SHOULD Say Sorry

There are times when saying ‘sorry’ is warranted. If you made a mistake that had an impact – such as making a coworker’s job more difficult or hurt someone’s feelings – then, an apology is necessary. Some situations require an apology beyond, “I’m sorry.”

  • When you lose your temper
  • When you arrive late to work or a meeting
  • When you deliver sloppy work.

A promising method of apologizing is the apologize-acknowledge-explain-action method.

First, apologize for something specific to the person or people who were impacted. Next, acknowledge that you understand how your actions affected them and explain where you were coming from without it sounding like an excuse. Finally, state a plan for how you’ll solve any problems your actions may have created, and how you’ll act differently in the future.

Alternatives of saying “I’m Sorry”

Like any habit, good or bad, practice and a conscious effort can encourage the necessary change. Here are some phrases to try in place of “I’m sorry,” situationally depending.

  • I imagine that is stressful…
  • I appreciate your patience…
  • Thank you for bringing this to my attention…
  • I’d love to add…

If you’re looking for a resolution for the new year – try to omit over-apologizing. It will likely carry a positive impact on your self-esteem which will ultimately improve your performance in your career. When you feel great, you perform great.

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