In an average day, I probably say “I’m sorry” to at least twenty people. I’m sorry I decided to go down these stairs at the same time you did, I’m sorry you forgot to email me and now this report is late, I’m sorry this other thing entirely out of my control happened and now plans have changed.
Saying sorry is, in general, a nice thing to do. There’s recently been a bit of a movement to encourage people, especially women, to stop apologising so much. While I do agree that women, in general, tend to apologise more than they should, I don’t think we need to get rid of it entirely. Sometimes an “I’m sorry” is appropriate, other times, you’d be better off saying something a little different.
This week Fast Company published a story where is talked about over apologising, specifically how it can undermine your authority and confidence in a situation, and ultimate damage your credibility or portray you as weak and indecisive, never things you really want. Also, when you’re constantly apologising, when that thing comes along that you should be apologising for, your audience will be so desensitised by all your other non-needed apologies that it can seem insincere.
So what do you do instead?
Fast Company has a number of suggestions for how to deal with the issue. However, my favourite is to briefly acknowledge the problem and then explain how you’re going to fix it. For instance, if you’ve had to reschedule a meeting five times because key members weren’t able to attend, that’s not your fault. You don’t need to apologise here. Instead, try something like “I know we’ve had to reschedule this meeting. Thank you for going with the flow.”
You don’t need to explain to everyone why the meeting was rescheduled. With that statement you’re likely projecting the same thought you hope to with an “I’m sorry” but you’re doing it in a much more direct and authoritative way.
You don’t need to apologise for things like emotions or saying no. Instead, just explain what the problem is and offer a small followup to it.
The key is taking a closer look at the things you’re apologising for and making sure they’re things you should be apologizing for. If something doesn’t actually require an apology (some things definitely do!) then think about how you’re phrasing your response to a person. It can have a dramatic effect on how you’re perceived.