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How To Stop Saying "I'm Sorry" at Work

by Ashley Garrett  |  3309 views  |  0 comments  |      Rate this now! 

Sorry, sorry, sorry!   I had an interesting situation at work this morning that got me thinking about the word “Sorry” and how using the word actually creates a job in the workplace.  Here’s the nutshell version: Administrative assistant to the Big Boss emails a message that needs to go out via all employee channels.  She addresses it to my coworker—who doesn’t actually handle internal communications.  That’s my job!  My coworker is in the middle of untangling a website problem (her job!) so the email sits.   You May Also Like: Women and Conflict in the Workplace   Admin waits 30 minutes but gets no response, so she calls me.  “I’m sorry to bother you, but is ___ here today?”  I explain that she is.  Admin explains about the email and in the explanation, I realize that it should have come to me.  I tell her the process and she answers, “I’m so sorry.  I know you told me that before but I forgot.”  She forwards the email to me and copies my coworker to say, “Please disregard earlier message.”  I get to work on the internal messaging.  My coworker gets the website problem solved then goes to her Inbox…where she sees the “disregard” email and the original request…which wasn’t her responsibility to begin with.  Still, she replies with, “Soooo sorry I missed this.”    We’re all just doing our jobs and no one did anything to offend, hurt, or dupe anyone else, so why are we so SORRY?  I have a Master’s degree in Sociolinguistics, so I think about this stuff more than is probably good for my health.  Here’s my approach to “sorry”—I save it for when I truly want to accept guilt for my transgression.   You May Also Like: How To Be a Mentor To Younger Women   There have been plenty of studies about why women say sorry more than men do.  And the general advice from career makers is “Stop saying sorry” because it makes us look weak.  The longer I think about it, I think we’re using “sorry” when we mean other things.  I try to save “sorry” for when I’m truly sorry and I am to blame for a problem.   Here are four different ways to replace “sorry”: Excuse me! Three people are having a conversation in front of the printer.  Instead of, “I’m sorry…can I get in here?” how about saying, “Excuse me.  Thanks!”  It’s easy to use “sorry” when we need to get someone’s attention.  Replace that with a clear and direct request, followed quickly by thanks.  I’m the one getting things DONE!   Nothing to be sorry about there.  Pardon the inconvenience… I’m checking the new time clock for my paid time off accrual when someone else comes up behind me to clock in.  My reflex is to say, “Sorry…I’ll just be a second…”  Yes, it’s an inconvenience for them to have to wait a few extra seconds because I  got there first.  But I got there first!  When it comes to normal inconveniences, I scrap “sorry” and try saying, “I’ll be done in 30 seconds (10 minutes, an hour, whatever)” then follow up with a “Thanks!”  It’s a clear way of acknowledging them without taking on any guilt for the simple fact that I got there first.   I’ll fix that. The boss is reviewing that contract your team has been working on for 36 hours straight.  The boss circles something with her red pen and points out a typo.  What’s the point of saying, “I’m sorry!”  How about moving straight to “OK,” or “Got it!” or “I’ll take that out.”  Mistakes happen.  Might not have even been your mistake.  Spend your words focusing on the solution, not apologizing for the mistake.   This was my mistake. I messed up a couple of weeks ago and released something that hadn’t been approved.  The Big Boss called attention to that fact—not just to me directly, but to the whole team.  So it was time to own my mistake and remedy the situation.  I said, “I apologize for the error.  I’ve recalled that file.  What changes would you like to make?”  I owned it, explained how I had remedied the error, then focused the discussion on the next step.   Notice how I still didn’t say “sorry?”   

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