Six times saying sorry at work is a bad idea

Always apologising at work? Stop being ‘sorry not sorry’…

Although saying sorry is undoubtedly essential in some situations, it’s a phrase that can be prone to overuse – especially if you’re guilty of saying it for all the wrong reasons. And it isn’t just a lack of sincerity that could give you grounds to skip the apologies.

To help you understand when you should (and shouldn’t) say it, here are six times saying sorry at work is a bad idea:


1. When you’re not really sorry

Let’s face it, you’re not always going to mean it when you say sorry.

Aside from actually being something we say to genuinely apologise – it can also be used in the hope that it’ll make a problem go away, or to get your boss off your back. But hey, they don’t know that, right? Wrong.

In other words, if your apology is insincere – your boss is going to be able to tell.

And what happened to the boy who cried wolf sorry? Everyone stopped believing him – even in situations when an apology was genuine. So not only does it affect your credibility, constant overuse could also lessen the effect it has going forward.

So, to make sure you’re not sabotaging the sincerity of every future apology, only ever say sorry when you actually mean it.


2. When you don’t have anything to be sorry for

The word sorry is often a product of habit.

But whether you use it as a filler, you’re apologising for someone else’s mistake, or you just want to make what you’re saying seem more polite, it shouldn’t be an uninvited guest that shows up in every conversation.

So before you say sorry without thinking – ask yourself; do I have anything to be sorry for?

For example, you don’t need to say sorry for going to the bathroom, but you do need to say sorry for spilling your coffee on your colleague’s lap.

In situations where an apology isn’t actually warranted, simply replace it with an equally polite but more fitting word or phrase (like ‘excuse me’). That way, you’re not going to risk sounding uncertain and/or apologetic about what you’re about to do.


3. When you’re pointing out an invisible problem

AKA the pre-emptive apology – commonly said before anything has happened, often by excessive worriers.

For example, perhaps you’re just about to start a presentation. You didn’t have much time to work on it so you’re worried the quality isn’t great – so before beginning you apologise to your colleagues, hoping they’ll ‘bear with you’.

This could two possible reactions; you’ll either come across as if you need reassurance (as you’re not confident in your ability) or you’ll simply set yourself up for failure by planting a seed a doubt in their minds.

And let’s face it, if you say nothing at all – the chances of anyone even noticing any mistakes or slip ups are likely to be reduced.


4. When you need help

Asking for help is an inevitable part of work, especially if you’re new to a job.

So why should you say sorry if you need it?

As long as you ask your manager or colleague in a polite and friendly manner (allowing them to decide whether they’ve got the time to spare), there’s no reason your request warrants an apology.

However, if you find that the task has taken longer than you thought, or it ended up being more complex than you realised – saying sorry might be the most polite thing to do. Just do your best to gauge the situation, ensuring you don’t take their help for granted.

Remember: you’re shouldn’t need to apologise for reaching out for help. Especially when it’s likely to make you better at your job.


5. When you know you’re doing the right thing

A sudden lack of confidence can often bring on unnecessary ‘sorries’.

Whether you feel the need to apologise for sharing your (opposing) opinion in a meeting, or you’re in charge of making a business decision that isn’t necessarily everyone’s number one choice – you shouldn’t need to say sorry for your professional beliefs.

In fact, the best business people are likely to avoid backing down in situations like these.

Saying sorry for having an opinion (or changing it based on others), will only reduce the level of authority you hold – and cause people to doubt your opinions in the future. And, phrases like ‘sorry but I don’t agree’ also have a defensive tone which you’re better off avoiding.

So learn to speak confidently at work, and you might be surprised at the positive reaction you get.


6. When you take a day off

Taking time off work can often induce unnecessary guilt.

And what follows unnecessary guilt? Usually, an unnecessary apology, whether it’s for leaving your boss short-staffed, delaying a deadline, missing a meeting, or whatever else.

But no matter what your reason for taking a day off is (from holiday to sickness) – you shouldn’t have to say sorry. In fact, you’re entitled to both holiday and sick days, so there’s no need to feel bad about taking them.

The same goes for attempting to do work whilst you’re away. Especially if your absence is down to illness.

And if your employer expects an apology? Maybe it’s time to find a new job…



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