How to stop apologising for doing your job

If you find yourself mumbling “I’m sorry” more times than you’d like to admit, you’re not alone. Many of us are serial workplace apologisers, pulling out the “sorries” to fill silences, ease social tension or make constructive criticism go away faster.

Two boxing gloves on table

But have you considered the effects of your diehard habit? It could be impacting how you’re perceived on the job, or whether you’ll be offered a shot at the next promotion.

Help! I can’t stop apologising!

If this is you, don’t fret. And definitely don’t apologise!

Curbing communication habits takes practice, particularly if you’ve been using the same tried and tested phrases for years.

The words “I’m sorry” along with “just” and “maybe”, plus the use of excessive exclamation marks, all fall within the same camp.

These phrases and grammatical choices soften language. In other words, they can make you feel like you’re coming across as more pleasant and likeable than you would if you said things straight. It’s no wonder they’re addictive.

But, just like anything in life, there can be too much of a good thing.

Why is over-apologising bad?

What’s the harm in a little “sorry” bandied about here and there?

It’s not so much the phrase itself, but the overuse of it. Much like your favourite chocolate bar, moderation is key.

Use the phrase excessively, and you’re likely framing yourself as ‘at fault’ even when there’s no fault to be shouldered. After all, “I’m sorry” implies ownership.

Along with painting yourself as wrong when you may not be, you may also be illustrating yourself as passive and easy to take advantage of in the workplace—unable to communicate opposing opinions, or offer solutions, a necessary skill for leadership.

Why am I over-apologising, even when it’s not needed?

There are a variety of reasons why you may find comfort in offering an apology to work colleagues, even when there’s no need to. Most of these are linked to self-esteem and anxiety—common challenges that most professionals face at some stage in their career.

You may have a fear of being disliked. You may want to come across as easy to work with. You may just want a conversation to wrap up faster, saying the phrase so that you don’t have to go into detail about your decision-making process.

If you believe your habit stems from a yearning to be liked, there are a number of strategies you can try to build self-confidence.

Why not start your day by filling a journal? Try listing your strengths as a reminder to yourself that you are capable and strong. Beyond that, there are a variety of prompts available that are designed to build confidence.

Explore assertiveness training

Another avenue is seeking professional help, such as a psychologist or counsellor. After all, if your constant over-apologising is impeding your work life, chances are that it’s leading you to be taken advantage of in friendships and romantically too.

Assertive communication training is yet another avenue to explore, particularly if your habit is mostly a work-related one.

But what is assertiveness, and what does it have to do with saying “I’m sorry”? Put simply, assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident. The very opposite of where your habits may stem from.

So, what’s assertiveness training then? Generally, these are a series of sessions that can help you communicate clearly with confidence.

Alternatives to “I’m sorry”

Ready to try to curb your over-apologising habit? Good for you. Acknowledging that you rely on the phrase a little too much is the first step towards changing your behaviour and coming across as more confident and assertive in the workplace.

Instead of going cold turkey, a clever way to take charge is by finding alternative phrases to fill silence when receiving feedback.

Just like “I’m sorry” may be your safety blanket right now, the following phrases could offer comfort when you’re faced with an uncomfortable or awkward conversation.

  • “That didn’t go as planned, but I’ve got this!”
  • “Thanks for pointing that out.”
  • “Ah, I can see that now.”
  • “Absolutely, good call!”
  • “I’ll come back to you with a solution.”

It’s worth noting that there are times when an apology is absolutely necessary.

Those situations are often less about constructive feedback or awkward silences, and more serious in nature.  You’ll know them when you see them.

Remember, being a chronic apologiser isn’t a sign of weakness. You’re only human. But the power is in your hands to change it.

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