Not to contribute toward society’s habit of picking apart feminine communication patterns, but I’ll say it: in my own life, at least, the tendency to over-apologize was something I had to put effort into unlearning.
Now that I struggle less (or at least less than I once did) with assuming responsibility for just about everything that happens in the world, “I’m sorry” isn’t quite as common a part of my daily vocabulary. Which is ideal. After all, beyond the issue of taking responsibility where it isn’t due, as a default apology, this language has the tendency to oversimplify a situation into black-and-white terms — my fault versus yours. And that isn’t always the most beneficial tool for arriving at actual solutions, including in our careers.
The next time you feel compelled to say “I’m sorry” at work, consider whether one of the following five statements might better capture your true meaning.
By switching from “I’m sorry” to “thank you,” your show of gratitude gives the other party something in response for the inconvenience you fear you’ve caused. It also allows you to retain ownership of the situation while pointing toward a soon-to-be-had solution — which is certainly preferable to an empty “sorry.”
We’re all busy, and it’s good to be mindful of that. But being busy doesn’t mean that speaking to you isn’t also a related function of this person’s job, and that needing their help is something you should feel sorry for. Acknowledge the fact you’re asking to use up some of their time without the apologetic preamble.
A cut-to-the-chase solution is always preferable to a drawn out “I really messed that one up” apology. Starting to see a pattern here?
Having a difference in viewpoints isn’t something either party should feel the need to apologize for. Period. When you use the above language free of “I’m sorry,” you reinforce the idea that more than one perspective can be valid at a time, and that’s likelier to yield better outcomes.
If something bad has happened in a colleague’s personal life, try switching from a place of sympathy (a la “I’m sorry) to a place of empathy when showing your concern. It’ll make for a more meaningful exchange and strengthen your connection to them.