In polite society, missing an appointment, stepping on someone’s foot or other wrongdoing warrants a pardon. As for stating your opinion or speaking up? Sorry, we’re not sorry.
Women especially are guilty of apologizing at moments when we should instead show confidence and strength. Too many unearned apologies can hurt your credibility—or worse, people might start thinking you actually have something to apologize for.
“In my classes and workshops, I see that women apologize more than men do,” says Brown University professor Barbara Tannenbaum, PhD. “It’s a gender pattern rather than an age pattern. I say to women, ‘Have you ever apologized to an inanimate object after you walked into it?’ and I get laughter. And when I tell women, ‘Don’t apologize,’ sometimes they apologize for apologizing."
Sound familiar? Here’s how to reevaluate the way we speak
1. Tweak your vocab to be more impactful.
“Look for words that don’t add to your power, whether it’s an apology that’s undeserved, or ‘I just wanted to say’ or ‘it’s just my opinion, but…’” Tannenbaum says. “These diminish the value of what you’ve saying. Instead, say ‘based on my experience, perhaps…’” After noticing her “I’m sorry” habit, Career Contessa founder Lauren McGoodwin made a change. “I found three other words like ‘excuse me,’ and made a real effort to remove ‘sorry’ from my vocabulary,” she says. “I feel more confident not using ‘sorry’ and I encourage other women to give it a try.”
2. Build an anti-sorry support system.
“Find friends or people you work with and become monitors for each other,” Tannenbaum suggests. Encourage each other to use positive, powerful talk, so when it’s time to make that big pitch or stand up for yourself, sorry doesn’t even cross your mind. “We have to stop apologizing for taking up space, having opinions, and believing in ourselves,” adds Kelly Youngs, founder of the website She is Fierce!, an online community dedicated to female empowerment.
3. Be your own biggest fan.
“Sell yourself as if you’re selling your best friend,” Tannenbaum states. It’s easy to talk about your close pals and their strengths, but it can be harder for women to self-promote. Don’t be bashful: When speaking of your own accomplishments, channel the spirit you have when boasting about your BFF.
4. Whatever you say, say it with confidence.
“Simply put, forget all the rules and be bold and confident with what you have to say no matter who you are speaking to,” says Rhonesha Byng, founder of Her Agenda, a site dedicated to supporting women across industries. “As a listener, always make the effort to hear the speaker and do not get distracted by trivial things.”