How many times a day do you catch yourself saying “sorry?” Whether you’re prefacing a question, responding to feedback, or apologizing for an action, you probably say it (or write it in email) more times than you think. Most of the time, you probably don’t even mean it.
Sometimes, the urge to overuse the phrase “I’m sorry” in a professional setting can be a good indicator that someone is treating you in a way that causes you to feel shame or embarrassment, or feel you’re irresponsible or incapable at your job. Even worse, when we are in environments where we chronically feel this way, we can lose sight of how to foster a sense of personal advocacy. When saying “sorry” repeatedly, we do ourselves a disservice by avoiding the opportunity to be assertive or forthright.
Lead with Confidence: How to Stop Saying “Sorry” at Work
When you want to write “sorry,” say something more assertive instead. In these four situations, replace “sorry” with something that communicates an understanding of the situation, empathy, and solutions when appropriate.
When You Want to Apologize for a Delay
Instead of “I’m sorry for the delay in my reply,” say “Thank you for your patience.”
When Responding to Complaints or Criticism
Use, “Thank you for alerting me to your concern (or “to this matter”). I will do [x, y, and z] to ensure it is rectified as soon as possible.”
When Requesting Attention or Assistance
Instead of saying “Sorry to bother you,” directly ask if the person has the time or capacity to assist you with something. Be sure to express your appreciation for their consideration. Say, “Do you have availability to discuss this matter? Thank you for your time.”
When Challenging an Idea
Replace “I’m sorry, but I do not agree with your approach” with, “I have an alternate approach that I’ve laid out below, and I appreciate that this option be considered.”
How does this make a difference?
Replacing “sorry” with more assertive (and accurate) phrases will rebuild your sense of personal advocacy. For you to succeed in your role and career, you need the confidence to stand up for your ideas, conviction to ask for what you need, and attitude to command respect. Your vocabulary should highlight your value, not diminish it, and you can use these phrases to elevate your language’s professionalism. However, do consider your tone—being direct is good, but not brash.
This might seem obvious, but you should only use “sorry” when you’re feeling sorrow (e.g. in a condolence letter) and regret (e.g. accidentally feeding someone with an allergy peanuts). Otherwise drop it from your vocabulary in the workplace. Your communication, and attitude, will be that much stronger and resolute.