Want to supercharge your career? Stop saying sorry

HR leaders deal with the most sensitive situations at work – but we need to stop apologising

Want to supercharge your career? Stop saying sorry

Contrary to what Elton John would have you believe, sorry most certainly is not the hardest word.

In fact, apologising is almost ingrained into our subconscious, and oftentimes it takes more effort to hold that sorry in rather than blurt it out.

As a Brit, I personally apologise upwards of 10 times a day (mostly to pieces of furniture I bump into).

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And while there’s no shame in apologising when you’ve done something wrong, constantly saying sorry at work can be detrimental to career growth.

Saying sorry too much comes across as insincere and inauthentic – essentially meaning that every sorry you say, over a period of time, diminishes in value.

HR leaders are often placed in the most sensitive of situations at work.

From terminations to lawsuits, redundancies to bullying allegations – these scenarios can have practitioners apologising without even realizing it.

And it’s not much better for your teams.

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Research from Serenata Flowers suggests that the average employee says sorry up to eight times each day – 10% of those people apologise over 18 times. The most common scenarios workers apologise over are being late (78%), missing a work call (68%), and accidentally colliding with a colleague.

Perhaps more worryingly, women are significantly more likely to apologise than men. Renowned sociologist Maja Jovanovic mulled over this topic in a recent TEDx Talk.

“Why do women apologise more often than men?” Jovanovic asked the audience.

“Research shows that when both men and women deem an infraction to be apology worthy, they’ll both apologise.”

The data Jovanovic is referring to is University of Waterloo’s paper on perceiving offensive behaviour in different genders. The report shows that both genders will apologise if they deem the situation necessary – however, men have a higher threshold for what they perceive to be ‘apology worthy.’

Essentially – women are much more likely to say sorry unnecessarily.

“Apologies matter,” added Jovanovic. “Don’t let anybody tell you differently. Sure, if used in the right way and intermittently, they can ease old wounds and heal trauma.

“But if you’re beginning and ending your sentences with ‘sorry’ don’t be surprised if there’s nothing left of your confidence at the end of the day, because you’ve given it away [sic].”

If you find yourself in a situation at work, with a sorry balanced precariously on your tongue, take a step back and reflect:

  • Do you really need to apologise?
  • Did you do something wrong?
  • Or can you use another phrase in lieu of an apology?

Replace your sorry with something else.

Instead of proffering an inauthentic apology, try saying:

  • I disagree with you on that point – here’s what I was thinking
  • Personally, that’s not my opinion, but I can understand where you’re coming from
  • That didn’t exactly go as I had planned – here’s how we can fix it
  • I heard about what happened earlier, if you need any help from me just ask

The important factor for HR leaders is showing empathy without overly apologising. Connecting with your employees and talking through difficult situations is healthier and much more productive – it also shows true leadership and growth potential.

Remember the power of an apology – and stop dolling them out like office candies – and take back some control.

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