July 14, 2014

Fast Company published an article recently titled “Sorry, Not Sorry – Why Women Need to Stop Apologizing for Everything.”  Some say “sorry” out of habit; others use it to soften communication that might feel harsh or negative. But if women really want to realize their leadership potential, we’ve got to stop apologizing unnecessarily. The Fast Company article quotes Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder of Center for Talent Innovation (a think tank in NYC) and author of Executive Presence: the Missing Link Between Talent and Success:

It’s time to purge the word unless you really have something to be sorry about.  Using ‘sorry’ frequently undermines our gravitas…

That sounds pretty bad – especially for a word that is typically considered to be well-intentioned and genuine.

Hewlett notes that, in addition to personal habit, corporate culture also plays a role in over-apologizing:

In many cases, women need to find ways to temper their personalities or risk being called rude, abrasive or even risk their jobs if they don’t find ways to soften others’ perception.

This disconnect between being truly apologetic for something and saying sorry as a means for deflection can stem from a lack of candor, I believe. Maybe we’re in environments where direct and honest feedback isn’t a priority or we lack the skills to be forthright with our opinions – either way, saying “I’m sorry” when we’re not (or shouldn’t be) sorry is a sign that we aren’t comfortable delivering straight talk in tough situations.

The Fast Company article offers suggestions for how to quit the over-apologizing habit:

  • Track Your Apologies – Bonnie Marcus, executive coach and radio host, suggests keeping a log so you can identify any triggers and break the habit
  • Find Another Phrase – Kathryn D. Cramer, business consultant and author of Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do suggests being more careful to choose the words that you really mean to say. For example, start your statement with “let me say this…”
  • Embrace Silence – Bookend important statements with silence to give them more significance.

The practice of candor encourages us to say we’re sorry when we’re just that – actually sorry. But candor also means that when we don’t have a reason, we’re not apologizing for who we are, the truth of what we’re saying or the powerful voice in which we say it.

To read the full article from Fast Company, click here.