6 Tips To Stop Apologizing At Work

For most women, including myself, apologizing is inexorably linked to our understanding of politeness. Saying sorry is second nature to us, and we seldom question our need to apologize for everything.

I didn’t realize how often I said sorry. At restaurants I’d say “Sorry I’m allergic to mango.” And at work I’d say, “Sorry I’m on holiday.” In reality, I was neither sorry for my allergies nor for taking holidays. Why then did I find it necessary to preface my truth with an apology?

According to a study conducted at the journal of Psychological Science, “men apologize less frequently than women do because they have higher thresholds for what constitutes offensive behavior.” So basically, women apologize more because our threshold for what constitutes offensive is low.

That may have something to do with how women are raised in most cultures. We’ve all heard a variation of ladies sit crosslegged, don’t be that girl, good girls don’t show skin, women from good homes don’t cuss, and more. 

Regardless of why we apologize unnecessarily, it’s time we stop this habit that can potentially damage our careers. Studies suggest that apologizing too much makes one appear weak, insecure, and even passive aggressive to coworkers. None of those are qualities that will take anybody far in their career.

This year I have made an active effort to apologize only when necessary. Being mindful about my apologies has increased my confidence and self-awareness. It’s not been easy because the word sorry is so deeply embedded in my everyday vocabulary. Nonetheless, there are some tips that have helped and I’d like to share them with you. 

Know Your Triggers

I used to find myself instinctively saying sorry before asking a colleague for a favor or declining a meeting invite when I was unavailable. I have now identified these situations as triggers and prepared standard responses for them. I no longer say, “I’m sorry to disturb you. Do you have a minute to look over this report?” Instead, I say, “Is now a good time for you to look over this report?

Identify your triggers and prepare standard language to communicate what you need without apologizing. It will put you in control!

Offer Solutions Instead

Things are bound to go haywire or get delayed sometimes. In the past, I’ve apologized profusely for results that weren’t in my control. As I’ve come to grow in my career, I’ve realized that in those situations an emotionally intelligent response goes farther. If a project is delayed, offer an alternative plan. You sent a report and got critical feedback? No need to string words of remorse. Instead focus on what needs to be done to bring the desired outcome and clearly communicate that.

Regroup your thoughts and write an effective, alternate solution when plans seem to be dismantling.

Empathize Not Apologize

We feel compelled to offer a sympathy sorry when a colleague shares their difficulty to meet a deadline or expresses concern about a project. While a sorry may convey sympathy, it doesn’t necessarily make the other person feel better. That’s where empathy comes in.

Empathy is our ability to understand our emotional impact on others and consequently make change. It is more important than ever for corporate leaders to be empathetic and foster a culture of empathy, which is directly linked to increased productivity, engagement and happiness of employees.

So next time you’re about to utter a sympathy sorry, ask yourself what you’d like to hear if you were in the situation of your vulnerable colleague. “I’m so sorry to hear that” or “That must be very hard on you. I may be able to spare a few minutes in the afternoon if you need help.” 

Rationality Instead Of Apology

We’ve all heard “I’m sorry I don’t agree.” When you apologize before stating your opinion, you appear inadequate, unprepared, and unsure. Conflict of opinion at work is inevitable. It shouldn’t be diffused with a flat sorry. Rather, you should choose polite language and rationality to explain your disagreement.

As long as you remain professional not emotional, there is no need to apologize for having a different approach. Personally, I find it refreshing to discuss different angles before deciding a course of action. 

Substitute With Gratitude

Regularly apologizing for small things can make your apology lose its meaning overtime. So, keep your apologies for when you’ve personally or emotionally caused hurt. For the daily, practice gratitude instead. For instance, you can use “thank you for waiting” in place of “sorry I’m late.”

Substituting apologies with gratitude lets you take ownership and control of your situation.

Apologize Without Saying It

Whenever my siblings and I fought, my mother used to urge us to makeup. The only caveat was that we were not allowed to use the word sorry. She expected us to dig deeper into our conscience and show repentance through actions. 

I have applied this exercise in my career and it’s been brilliant. Trying to apologize without using the word pushes me to walk in the shoes of the other person and understand how I can best satisfy their current needs.

Apologizing without saying it can help create meaningful impact both on the work you produce and the relationships you cultivate.

That was all for today, lovelies. Hope you find these tips useful! If you’ve any suggestions of your own, please drop them in the comments. xx





10 thoughts on “6 Tips To Stop Apologizing At Work

  1. We don’t even realize how often and casually we pepper our sentences with sorry, especially at work. Thanks for these practical tips, I agree with you completely and have also made a conscious effort not to apologize unless I really am at fault. It really does make me feel more confident at work!
    Good work Komal, another great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Amna! It’s become an integral part of our daily vocabulary—so important to question our use of language. I believe our words to be an extension of our personalities.


  2. I really liked the post! I love how you are giving alternative phrases to use in specific situations as examples. There is nothing I love more than concrete and direct advice that you can apply from minute one. Great job on this post, Komal!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post and a great reminder to be more conscious of what we are saying in the work place. I am going to make a better effort of being more empathetic instead of apologetic ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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