Stopping the ‘Auto-Apology’ Habit

Davina Greene is a coach, trainer, and People & Organisational Development consultant based in Dublin, Ireland. This column was first published (adapted) in Irish Tatler magazine, on sale September 2013.

 

I feel that I am too apologetic in the workplace, and losing ‘power’ as a result. What can I do?

Many of us have worked sorry into our general vocabulary without even realising it. Sentences start with an unnecessarily apologetic  “I’m sorry, but (how do I…)?”. Good old “Excuse me, (how do I….)?”, which is much more neutral, is disappearing. We even say “Sorry” when someone collides with us in the street. This can unintentionally create a genuine “sorry” feeling; you feel diminished in your own eyes and yes, some people may hear weakness in it. When does it happen?

Asking for help? We can feel like we are causing dreadful inconvenience by not being all-knowing! Your colleagues are there to help. You would happily share knowledge, if asked – wouldn’t you? Why assume, then, that this generosity is one-way?

Giving a different opinion? “I’m sorry, but I disagree.” You are allowed to disagree! It is not rude (unless expressed carelessly). Indeed, it may save the company time or money, bring new creativity to the table, even stop groupthink. Your opinion forms part of your contribution.

On behalf of others? This is especially common in new or under-confident managers, who may take too much responsibility for the people in their teams, due to simple inexperience or unwillingness to enter debate. Train well, then let everyone be accountable for their own actions.

Despite being right?  For example, in applying company policy. “I’m sorry, but we need to go down the disciplinary route because, yet again, you haven’t met any of your agreed deadlines”. You’re simply following policy; no apology needed.

 

Identify your auto-apology moments and work on this over a period, and you will feel your ‘power’ returning gradually. Make note of when it happens – are there trends? Specific places? Specific people?

If your ‘apologies’ are habit-based, perhaps script the first lines of key conversations so that you start firm and strong. Involve a friendly colleague, who can give you a look or signal, helping you create the new habit of instantly retracting or re-wording your auto-apologies.  If it’s less based on habit and more based on genuine under-confidence, then Confidence is the area you now need to take the time to examine in greater depth.

If this truly bothers you, you will simply need to create a strategy for dealing with it – rest assured, with proper, consistent focus, you will overcome it.