Want More Confidence at Work? Use Key #13: No Apologies

The Reflex of "Sorry!"

The Scene:  The open-concept tech office, west corner sofa.

The Players:  John, a mid-level operations manager and his boss and Taj, an operations director.

The Situation:  John is running down the items on his list to inform Taj of his progress on the migration project during their weekly one-on-one meeting.

When Taj shifts on the couch, John's binder falls to the ground.

"Whoops!  Sorry." says John.

As they’re running down the list together, Taj asks if John can attend a meeting in his place, but John has a conflict at that time.

“Oh wait, I have a conflict.  Sorry.” says John.

A half hour in, Taj looks at his watch while John is speaking and starts gathering up his things.  

"I know you have to go.  Sorry."

Are you picking up on anything here {sarcastic font}?

"I am SO sorry!"

I share this conversation to prove a point:  that saying 'sorry' can become a reflexive habit. 

And a reflex is an involuntary reaction - something we do automatically, without thinking. 

In the conversation between John and Taj, 'sorry' is as reflexive as any other word crutch such as “like,” “you know,” and “right?” 

It’s a filler…distracting…and with overuse and without true intention, 'sorry' also becomes meaningless. 

But 'sorry' can also be harmful.  Especially when overused at work.

"But I'm Supposed to Be Vulnerable!"

Research professor, TED-talk rock star and thought leader Brené Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.  

Facing uncertainty, risk and exposing emotions take courage, bravery.  But I would argue there's a better way to honor uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure in business.

'Sorry' expresses regret, sadness...it's a very powerful, purposeful word. 

And if you pepper your sentences with it out of reflex and habit...you sound weak, ingenuous. 

That's the harm.

Sorry, but it's true (SWIDT?).

And sounding weak and ingenuous is likely is not your intention.  Especially as a leader.

Confidence at Work: No Apologies

Let's not confuse 'sorry' as the habitual word filler with true, genuine regret.

'Sorry' denotes fault too, as in:  "I shouldn't have done that.  I won't do it again.  Please forgive me."

I'm not suggesting you never apologize.  Nor am I suggesting you never take responsibility for things gone wrong that are truly your fault at work.

What I am suggesting is instead of that 'sorry' as almost a form of reflexive verbal punctuation, you say what you mean.  

And use 'sorry' very, very sparingly and thoughtfully intentional at work.

What's a More Productive Response?

A more productive response is action-oriented.

A more useful response is to offer alternatives, solutions, actions.

Let's revisit our one-on-one conversation on the sofa with this model.


When Taj shifts on the couch, John’s binder falls to the ground.

“Here, let me get that.” says John.

As they're running down the list together, Taj asks if John can attend a customer meeting in his place, but John has a conflict at that time.

“Oh wait, I have a conflict.  How about I get the meeting notes from Sarah and we can debrief together?” says John.

A half hour in, Taj looks at his watch while John is speaking and starts gathering up his things.  “I know you have to go.  We can wrap up here.”


Ahh...doesn't that sound better?

 

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