“I’m so sorry, oh sorry about that, sorry to bother you, sorry it’s only me” – and on it goes. Saying sorry when in truth we don’t really mean we’re sorry. It’s often more about something to say than necessary and it’s a slippery, dangerous slope if you want to be taken seriously at work.
When I sat with a client (let’s call her Jane) for the first time, we talked about what she thought was going on which meant she felt so stuck, so undervalued, so small – as she said. Jane’s boss had asked me to work with Jane 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 Jane who was loyal, super-smart and efficient 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.
As I sat with Jane, 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 two things in the moment – it tells you something’s up and you actually can put people on the defensive or on the look-out for bad news.
There is a gender thing going on here too and it’s worth noting: as women, we’re hardwired to keep the peace, to help relationships flourish and as a rule we don’t like to upset people. It’s often why so many women shy away from conflict. Men, on the other hand, have a much higher threshold for what behaviour is acceptable and what 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 rather, than, as women, we worry and fret about whether we’ll upset the apple cart, about what people will think of us and whether they will 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 we as women can learn a lot from. A man is much more likely to blame outside forces or circumstances on things going off “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 outside of our control.
So, I 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 here’s something else to say instead. Say thanks. 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” you can say “thanks for giving me your attention a little while longer.” What this does is very, very useful; it presumes the other person is going to give you their attention and it empowers you. Far more useful and, in fact, truthful.
About the author:
Known as the Savvy & Influential Communication Expert, Kay White is hosting a unique 3-day Live Event “Show Up; Sparkle & Be Heard LIVE” in London on 9, 10, 11 June and as a guest of WATC, use the code WATCVIP and take 50% off your seat.
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