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January 3, 2023

30 Things to Stop Apologizing for at Work (& in Life).


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Y’all, I am a recovering “I say sorry all the time, unnecessarily, at work” kind of woman.

It’s a toxic habit I’ve had for decades.

But I am happy to share that, just recently, I went next level in my corporate work environment and made the commitment to knock the I’m sorries off.

Completely. 100 percent. No more of that crap. Finito. Or, as a friend says, “It’s done-zers.”

Now, except for expressing sympathy or a heartfelt apology when it is genuinely in order, I’m not saying sorry for anything. Yup, strong arm emoji.

It feels terrific and it also has me realizing how many people out there say sorry for things that are fundamental to being human and do not require an apology. Honestly, it’s astonishing. Throngs of people are saying sorry for living, for breathing…for taking up space.

How had I never noticed the extent of this whole, “I’m sorry for living” epidemic in the workplace (and outside of it) before?

Perhaps the most heartbreaking thing of all is that it seems to be my sisters, way more than my brothers, who have contracted this ailment. It’s like women are apologizing for literally just being here. What the f*ck.

The great news is I started feeling super empowered once I turned the corner and broke the knee-jerk “I’m sorry” response. And I want that for others now—if they want it too. So, with my Nancy Drew notebook beside my keyboard during my last few weeks of meetings, I tracked what people habitually say sorry for.

Let me tell you, it was eye-opening!

The first step was to become aware. My detective work was helpful with that and I hope it helps you too.

Here are the top 30 things we need to stop apologizing for at work (and in life):

1. Coughing, sneezing, sniffling, and clearing your throat.

2. Having something to say.

3. Running late.

4. Your physical appearance.

5. Wanting more.

6. Debating a solution.

7. Asking someone for help.

8. Requesting clarity.

9. Having high expectations.

10. Experiencing technology issues.

11. Other people’s mistakes.

12. Saying no.

13. Taking time to articulate yourself fully.

14. Asking a question.

15. Leaving a meeting early.

16. Anything out of your control.

17. Expressing a differing opinion.

18. Feeling a certain way.

19. Requesting personal time.

20. Other people’s behavior.

21. Not responding quickly to messages or emails.

22. Doing a great job.

23. Not knowing the answer to a question.

24. Making an error.

25. Needing more information.

26. Re-scheduling a meeting.

27. Leaving to use the restroom.

28. Your ideas.

29. Having setbacks.

30. Taking time off.

The second step was to figure out alternative things to say other than I’m sorry. I’ve researched and experimented, and here are some solutions that have been working well:

Say thank you instead of apologizing. 

Are you accustomed to entering a room late for a meeting with the usual MO of “I’m so sorry”? Try saying thank you instead. Find what you are grateful for and share it. In this case, thanking everyone for their patience and understanding would be appropriate. If you feel like you are holding someone up because you need more information or have a question, instead of apologizing thank them for taking the time to help you.

Allow pardon me to enter your vocabulary. 

For many of us, “I’m sorry” is an auto-pilot response. What can be helpful is to swap that out with pardon or pardon me. This comes in handy after doing things like coughing, accidentally speaking over someone, or needing to propose a change that impacts others.

Know that silence is okay.

Silence can be so awkward. It’s usually a time when insecurities creep in, and apologizing fills the uncomfortable void. I’m thinking of cringe-worthy moments when I have been speaking in public and cannot get my technology to work. In these situations, letting people know you need a minute is helpful, and doing so without adding an “I’m sorry” will feel great!

When feelings get heightened, pull your chin up.

Sometimes my emotions put me underwater, and when that happens during a meeting it becomes challenging for me. When the feelings are rising, remember that posture helps us feel more confident and self-assured. You need not be sorry for anything—you are a human existing on this planet just like everyone else, so get your chin up where it belongs!

Recommit when you forget.

I still forget and say sorry when I don’t need to. And that’s okay. There’s no need for a clean record here. It’s a great learning experience when there are mishaps along the way. What helps is focusing on recommitting and reconditioning yourself to only say sorry when it is truly appropriate. Start over again and again as needed, and it’ll get easier. (I learned this tip on recommitting at the Hendricks Institute and want to extend the credit).


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