“I’m so sorry, hey there sorry to bother you, oh sorry about that, oh, sorry it’s only Kate” – and on it goes. Saying sorry when actually we don’t really mean we’re sorry. It’s often more about something to say than necessary and it’s a slippery slope if you want to be taken seriously at work.
The first time I sat with a new client (let’s call her Lynn), we talked about what she thought was going on which meant she felt so stuck, undervalued and small, as she said. Lynn’s boss had asked me to work with Lynn to give her more confidence when communicating so she’d be ready to take on more responsibility. Her boss was very smart; she knew she had an excellent PA in Lynn who was loyal, efficient and super-smart and she knew she needed to kick her sorry habit if she was going to be an Executive PA and represent her at Board level.
During that first meeting with Lynn, I quietly noticed how many times she said ‘sorry’ – it was about 15 times in the first explanation of her career history and after a while I was conscious of listening less to the story and listening more for the number of times she said sorry. Not good.
If you hear someone say “sorry but” or “sorry no” or “sorry to say” it actually does 2 things in the moment: it tells you something’s up, that I think something’s not right and you actually can put people on the defensive or on the look-out for some bad news.
There is a gender thing going on here too that’s worth noting:
Women are hard-wired to keep the peace, help relationships flourish and as a rule, don’t like to upset people. It’s often why many women shy away from conflict. Men, on the other hand, have a much higher threshold for what behaviour is acceptable and when an apology is needed. Men will often ride roughshod over things believing that if it happened to them, they’d be OK with it whereas as women worry and fret about whether we’ll upset the applecart, what people will think of us and whether they still like us. This of course, doesn’t help our case at work.
Generally men don’t automatically take the blame or responsibility and this, I believe, is something women can learn a lot from for ourselves. A man is much more likely to blame outside forces or circumstances; “the conditions were just too tough” or “the market turned just at the wrong time” rather than “I’m so sorry, I just didn’t see it coming” – not jumping forward to take responsibility for things which are so often outside of our control.
So – I want to invite you to:
- Watch and notice if and how other people apologise and the effect it has on you.
- Notice if it is just something to say or if they genuinely mean it.
- Also, notice yourself– if you don’t really mean it, you’ve just got the feeling you need to say something, then just stay silent. Pause.
- Take a breath, and say something else instead. Say ‘thank you’. Instead of ‘oh, sorry for interrupting’ say “thanks for sparing me a moment” or instead of saying “sorry if I’m going on too long” say “thanks for giving me your attention a little while longer”. What this does is very useful. It presumes the other person is going to give you their attention or spare you a moment and empowers you. Far more useful and, in fact, truthful.
I’d love to hear what you think. You can leave me a comment or a note here. Here’s an immediate and practical Gift of you! A complimentary copy of “Do You Have Trouble Saying NO?”
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