It’s the season for over-indulgence. Whether your weakness is pumpkin flavored anything, dark chocolate, or carbs, fall is the season to give in to those temptations. But how awful do you feel mid-October when you can no longer stand the smell of pumpkin and none of your clothes fit? That’s because extremes can be unhealthy; too much of a good thing is never a good thing.
The same applies to over-apologizing at work. At first, you come across as extremely sweet, but say “I’m sorry” too many times, and you’ll give everyone a toothache.
True, no one likes working with someone who is arrogant and prideful. The kind of person who never recognizes their mistakes or owns up to their blunders will always rub people the wrong way. But the opposite of pride is insecurity, and when you apologize too often you’re broadcasting how insecure you feel.
You may need to wean yourself off of the habit of over-apologizing the way you do carbs, replacing them with a better option. So, here are five ways to replace the phrase “I’m sorry” at work:
1. “Thank you”
Did you make a legitimate mistake? It takes humility to accept that you’ve made a mistake and employers value humility. Employers also value proactive people who work to correct their mistakes. So, when you complete a task incorrectly and someone takes the time to teach you, thank them for it. Corporate America is cutthroat, do not take the guidance of others lightly.
2. “Can you please clarify?”
Was there something you didn’t understand in the instructions you were given? Instead of saying sorry when you miss a step, acknowledge that you didn’t understand what was expected of you and explicitly ask for clarification. A good follow up question would be, “how would you like me to proceed moving forward?” which shows interest in the success of the protocol.
3. “Despite my best efforts…”
Sometimes we make promises we can’t keep, accept deadlines we can’t meet and take on heavier workloads than we can carry. If you thought you could handle a task, only to find out you aren’t able to complete it, explain that to the person who assigned it to you. Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” clarify your intentions, explain how far you got, and be clear about what you need in order to finish.
4. “I’m not comfortable with that”
When we are asked to do something that doesn’t feel right, we may be tempted to apologize as a way to smooth out the tension. No one should ever ask of you anything that makes you uncomfortable. Apologizing in that situation will only open the door for future awkwardness. Instead, explain your boundaries and set a limit. Be explicit without saying sorry.
5. “I will direct you to the person who handles that”
Apologizing could be a way of making excuses for someone else. If you are covering for someone, including your boss, you may feel like you have to apologize for his or her mistakes. But if you are honest and explain that it is not your job to know the details of a matter and put them in contact with the correct person, many disasters can be avoided.
A well-crafted and sincere apology can go a long way in the workplace. It requires humility to recognize when you have made a mistake, and humility is an excellent quality that attests to your character. Pumpkin Spice Lattes are great in moderation, but drink too many and it starts to lose its magic. Similarly, when you overuse the phrase “I’m sorry,” it begins to lose meaning. Instead, work on ways to expand the words in your apology repertoire, so that if and when an apology is merited, you are able to truly earn forgiveness.