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How to stop saying ‘I’m sorry’ at work for no good reason

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How many times do you find yourself apologizing throughout the day? Do you say “I’m sorry” when it takes you a few hours to respond to an e-mail? When you start to speak at the same time as someone else? When someone else bumps into you?

You might not even realize when you are doing it. I only realized how frequently I was apologizing after I literally kept a tally for each time I said it in the course of one day. I found, much to my horror, that there were sorrys everywhere. My world-record number: fifty-three. Yes, I said “I’m sorry” fifty-three fucking times. In a day. I was shocked and embarrassed by the number, but the silver lining was that I became aware of my excessive apologizing right then and there—and you better believe I did something about it. I encourage you to count sorrys for yourself, because only once you are mindful of how much you are saying it can you finally stop apologizing for things that aren’t deserving of an apology.

I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that studies have shown we ladies are more likely to say “I’m sorry” than men. The interesting thing about those studies are that men don’t have a problem apologizing, they just have a higher threshold for the stuff they deem worthy of an apology. Bumping into someone coming out of the elevator or not returning a call right away doesn’t make their sorry benchmark. But for many of us ladies, it does.

So why do we as women say we are sorry so much? Part of it might be out of habit. Part of it might be a desire to seem more likable or express empathy. Some women I speak to tell me that it’s about not looking overly aggressive or not wanting to assert too much authority. I get it: it’s nerveracking to interrupt your boss or badger someone for something that hasn’t been done. But are you sorry for it? Whatever the core reason, it makes us look like we lack self-confidence. Let’s vow to apologize only when we actually do something wrong.

Here are some times we tend to say sorry in the workplace—with a possible alternative to say instead:

Being late for a meeting

What you might be inclined to say: “I’m so sorry, I had XYZ to do [sometimes we make this up because what we’re really doing, like maybe tracking down a tampon, isn’t appropriate to say].”

What you should say instead: “Thank you so much for your patience. I know your time is valuable, so let’s dive in.”

Asking a question

What you might be inclined to say: “I’m sorry, can I ask a question?”

What you should say instead: “Here’s my question.”

 Not liking something

What you might be inclined to say: “I’m sorry, I just didn’t think it was that good.”

What you should say instead: “I personally didn’t care for it, but here’s an idea to improve upon it.”

Boss Bitch Amy Schumer has a hilarious skit showing a panel of top women in their fields apologizing for the silliest things: for coughing, for their microphone not working, for asking for water, for being allergic to caffeine, for talking over each other, for having coffee spilled on them, for getting bumped into, for getting hurt, for the moderator mispronouncing or misstating their name or title. What makes this skit (and any great comedy for that matter) funny is it’s based on reality. I totally could imagine seeing each of these individual things play out in real life, but when strung together, it highlights how farcical those moments really are.

The only way to get rid of the stereotype is, hello, by not making it a stereotype anymore and just not apologize so damn much. A good way to do that is to remember the acronym KISS: Keep It Simple, Sister (okay, the last S conventionally stands for stupid, but I like my version better). Get to the point as clearly, quickly, confidently, and respectfully as possible, that way you don’t feel the need for filler sorrys.

To be fair, I probably apologize about five times a day now, maybe ten on a particularly rough day. I still apologize to express empathy and, of course, if I do something wrong. But I do it far less. #sorrynotsorry

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