As children we are taught to apologize when we have clearly wronged someone around us. After punching our brother, stealing a playmate’s toy, or throwing a tantrum we apologize. These were good examples of the proper use of an apology, the crime was obvious, all people were aware of the situation, and we attempted to show genuine regret. In the modern adult world, the word sorry does not have this kind of clarity. Often we will say sorry whenever any situation is less than ideal- regardless of whether or not we have anything to do with it. This seems rather benign, but can actually damage your career a lot! Saying “sorry” makes people assume that you are responsible for the issue, even if you had nothing to do with it. Today we are going to look at some common work place situations where we shouldn’t apologize (but often do!).
Someone else is messing up- There will be times where you have to call people out on their mistakes, there should never be a time where you apologize to someone for their mistakes. If you are correcting errors from someone working under you, or even a peer, you should tell them clearly what the problem is- but you should not apologize. As soon as you say “I’m sorry” it implies that you are contributing to the issue, even if it is completely separate from you. When correcting a co-worker’s mistake be kind, be clear, be helpful- but do not be sorry.
You’re confused- Sometimes you will have to ask your supervisor to answer some questions, or even another co-worker to help you with a project. This is perfectly acceptable behavior. No one can walk into a job and know everything about that job, we all need help from time to time. Do not apologize when you ask for help. Often it makes the person helping feel more burdened by the project than they would otherwise. Do return the favor, do thank the person who helps you, but do not apologize.
You are speaking your mind- Do not apologize for bringing an idea to the table. You were hired because you are smart and capable of coming up with new ways of doing things. Own your ideas, present them confidently. When you preface a new idea with a “sorry” you are undermining yourself, and whatever idea you follow with will seem worse because of it. You also relinquish a certain amount of ownership when you distance yourself from your ideas with an apology, making it far easier for an opportunistic co-worker to take credit for your work. Own your ideas, present them as yours, and they will not only seem more viable- but you will also get to keep them.
It is easy to fall back into apologizing for things that you haven’t done wrong. It is one of the most common tics, but it will not help your career. Own your actions, know what you have done right and what you have done wrong, and do not apologize for the good things that you do.