Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Michelle Kaplan
"The New York Radio Girl"

Do you say “I’m sorry” too much in English?

Do you find that you apologize before a lot of things that you say or do?

Do you know somebody who apologizes too much at work?

Today we’re looking at the tendency that many of us have to apologize more than we should.

We’re going to talk about this particularly in a professional setting, and why those unnecessary apologies may actually be holding you back.

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Our Tendency To Apologize Too Much

Do you find it easy to talk up your accomplishments at work?

Do you instead tend to apologize for things far too easily?

If you have to fill out something that asks, “What did you do well this week?” is that easy for you?

If you’re like so many people, then you may tend to shy away from attention and even downplay something that you’ve done well.

You may even find yourself apologizing, even when you’ve done a good job or positive thing!

A good point of reference that talks about this comes from a Women in Language speaker, Shanthi Streat, Business English coach from English with a Twist, and it’s called “Ditch the apology!”

On the surface it doesn’t make sense, and yet in practice it’s something that you may often do.

We’re going to look at how you can avoid apologizing so much, particularly for a job well done!

Avoiding Apologies As A Business Professional

It may feel like a natural inclination for you to apologize for something, even when it’s completely unwarranted.

It may be something that you don’t even realize that you are doing, and therefore it becomes a bad habit.

Sometimes you may minimize your contribution or question your ability.

You may even avoid stepping forward for a promotion.

These are negative behaviors that can actually hold you back, and yet so many of us are guilty of them.

You may be the type of person who turns away from compliments, as it’s hard for you to see something positive about yourself.

You may find yourself starting everything you say with an apology and saying “I’m sorry” becomes part of your conversation frequently.

A couple of examples of how this might happen to you in a business setting could include.

  • “Sorry, this might be a silly question, but…”
  • “I’m sorry, but do you have a minute?”
  • “I’m sorry, but can I make a comment here? I don’t want to disturb anyone.”
  • “I’m not an expert here, but…”

You may get a compliment even directly from your boss, which you should in theory accept.

You may be worthy of the compliment, but instead when your boss compliments you for meeting a sales goal you say something like “Well, it was a team effort.”

As you can see, it’s not good to always turn away the compliments and so you want to become aware of this habit and do your part to avoid it.

Though it may not be intentional, the more that you apologize the more you minimize your hard work and accomplishments.

The Trouble With Apologizing In The Business World

What’s the big problem with these apologies in a professional setting?

Is it really that bad to say that you’re sorry so much?

There are multiple reasons why you want to avoid making so many apologies, and ways in which this may actually hurt you professionally speaking.

1. People may end up not taking you seriously. If you don’t believe you’re ready for a senior position, no one else will think you’re ready. Saying sorry or apologizing for something that should be a positive somehow makes you look as if you aren’t confident or capable after awhile. You don’t want to fall into this trap, as you always want to be taken seriously and let people see that you are capable and confident.

2. You can irritate people after awhile. Think of how you might irritate people if you say, “Sorry, this may be a silly question.” They may think, “Then why are you asking it?” Saying sorry before you say or do something can backfire. People may start to wonder why you are asking, saying, or doing something. It becomes irritating if you start so many conversations with “I’m sorry….”

3. It can undermine your credibility after awhile. This may actually begin to shine a spotlight on language skills rather than your expertise. The overall message of your presentation or email may be lost. There is a reason speakers are introduced by sharing their credentials. People want to know why this person is an expert and why they should listen. If you apologize for your language skills, you are somehow undoing that credibility slowly but surely. You want to be known as a capable and credible individual, and you never want unnecessary apologies to stand in the way of that.

4. These apologies may perpetuate and maintain existing hierarchies in corporate cultures. If you are always humble and don’t speak up, eventually people will overlook you. It can work against you because we will be seen as not confident enough, and it may cost you a big promotion. It may stop your opportunities for advancement dead in their tracks!

These are the things that you must keep in mind when it comes to apologizing too much in a professional setting.

Ways To Eliminate Apologies

So you may recognize that excessive apologies are bad, and yet you may feel uncertain how to fix this behavior.

It may be a bad habit or behavior that you engage in, often without even realizing it.

Let’s look at some common scenarios where you may be apologizing unnecessarily, and how you can fix that or go for a different option that works better.

In this activity, consider a scenario where Aubrey gives this sort of apology and Lindsay shares how to say it differently without apologizing.

1. Aubrey might say something like “Sorry this may be a silly question.” —> Instead Lindsay would suggest saying “I have a question.” Try to assume that someone in the room may have the same question but isn’t brave enough to ask. This will give you courage to ask the question with confidence. You should never apologize as everyone has questions, and that’s how you learn.

2. Aubrey might say “Sorry for keeping you waiting.” —–> Lindsay would suggest “Thanks for waiting everybody.” If you start this off with an apology, it immediately puts you on the defensive and may make them think, “Yeah! You’re wasting our time!” You are acknowledging that they waited for you and you’re thanking them for their time. If you merely thank them for waiting, how can they now be angry? Instead of being annoyed, the psychology is different and the level of respect from both ends remains high. That one little switch and omitting the apology makes a huge difference here.

3. Aubrey might say “I’m sorry but I’m not ready for that promotion.” —-> Lindsay would suggest instead saying “Thank you for the opportunity. I will need some support. Angela on the sales team would be perfect because…” You want to be careful when you turn down a chance at a promotion or advancement of some type. The way in which you approach this is very important, and so you need to be sure that you are mindful of that. Never apologize because then it looks like it’s a lack of confidence that is holding you back. Thanking them for the opportunity and having a positive spin will help you to come across in a much better way.

4. Aubrey might say “Sorry, I’m just going to check the chat…” —-> Lindsay would suggest you say “I need a second to review the latest comments and questions in the chat.” First and foremost you buy yourself time here and you can focus on what needs to be done. Also keep in mind that you need to remove the word “just” in this type of scenario whenever possible, as it minimizes it. You don’t want it to look as if you are implying any fault of your own here. You are simply asking for time to take care of a given task, and that’s important to do when you need it. This second approach is direct and works much better!

5. In this scenario, somebody compliments your presentation. This is where you have a big important choice. Aubrey might say something like “I spoke too fast and I forgot to share something” — > Lindsay would say “Thank you. What do you find most interesting about this subject?” You are turning it around and putting the focus on the audience. You are asking for their input, rather than apologizing for something that you may or may not have skipped. It’s all about your approach, and when you take the apology out it makes it much better. You are direct and to the point, and you come across as confident rather than asking for unnecessary forgiveness.

Takeaway

If you find yourself apologizing a lot at work, realize how this can make others perceive you.

You don’t want to come off as insecure or lacking confidence.

Be sure that you own your abilities, skills and talents because that will help you in every situation.

Practice accepting compliments and speaking to colleagues at work without apologizing, because this will pay off tremendously.

This will make people take you more seriously, and make sure you are never overlooked!

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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