I Am Sorry, But You Are Way ‘Too Sorry’ at Work

Do you fit the description?

You’re in a meeting with your colleagues and some superiors and you have a question, but you start with, “Sorry to interrupt…” Or maybe someone sits down next to you in the bus and puts his arm on the armrest that you’re already using, so you apologize and move. Or, perhaps my favorite; you bump into a chair or a table and then say, “Oh, I’m sorry!” Lol… I am sorry but I had to laugh there, because I am guilty. Ok, so if you can relate to any of these situations, you probably apologize too much.

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You might not agree. You might ask isn’t apologizing a good thing? Yes it is! Apologizing is good but only and only when you have committed an offense. When you are fond of apologizing even when you did nothing wrong, or you apologize repeatedly for a small offense, you pass across a message: you subconsciously tell your listener that you are insecure, unsure, overly sensitive, or overly submissive.

so sorry

It’s funny—I’ve been talking with my friends about this and all but one admitted that they say too much sorry at work too. And it got me thinking, then this weekend, I overheard a conversation between two sisters, the eldest said to her younger sister, “No, don’t say you’re sorry. Saying sorry is just a way of tacitly admitting that you’re not going to change, but still giving yourself the credit for having good intentions. Don’t forget that.” And her sister responds, “You’re right. I’m sorry!”

Exactly! I thought that was perfect.

You see, no one wants to create a weak impression about themselves. So habitually saying sorry at the work place is a habit we need to overcome, but as with doing away with most bad habits, we need to first know why we do it, then and only then can we journey on the path or recovery.

Why Do We Over-Apologize?

You might have picked it up as a result of having great parents. I bet you were taught to take responsibility for your actions, or it was sung over and over again in your head that saying you’re sorry is polite, if you grew up with those morals, then you had good parents!
However, as with all things, most people tend to do too much and like my mama would say, “too much of anything (even good stuff) is bad”.

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This can be seen so clearly in Proctor & Gamble’s Pantene commercial, titled Not Sorry. (If you haven’t seen the video, you really need to click the link.) The situations are all so familiar: A woman apologizes for asking a question in a meeting. Or she apologizes for entering a colleague’s office. She apologizes when a man sits down next to her and bumps her arm. The funniest part in the video is when a woman moves out of the way for a man, apologizes to him, bumps the woman next to her, who bumps the next woman, and all three of them are apologizing! Funny, but true.


As a person, I can categorically tell you I have done those very things. Did I feel I was doing something wrong by asking a question in the meeting? Well, I think I felt I was interrupting. How dare I! But seriously, why would I apologize because someone else bumped into me? And yet I have. So it seems there is another reason for apologizing, as I mentioned in the beginning: a trained response to take a submissive role so as to avoid getting on the wrong side of people; so that they don’t think badly of us, so that we earn their respect. You see, the major challenge of man is that he cares too much about what people thinks about him, so much so, that he loses his identity in the process. *sigh*

How Do We Overcome the Habit?

Beverly Engel, psychotherapist and author of The Power of Apology, gives this advice: First, recognize you have a problem. Next, pay attention to how many times you catch yourself apologizing. Then tell yourself, “I’m only going to apologize once.” If you feel you’re about to apologize again, count to three. That should stop it.

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But there’s another issue to address: apologizing when there is no need. Did you do something wrong? Did you hurt someone? Is this issue your fault? Before you start to say you’re sorry, ask yourself these questions. If the answer is no, don’t apologize!

I would end with this story. A management position spot opened at my friend’s workplace. He and a colleague of his were the best candidates for the job. My friend worked tirelessly for months, he impressed his superiors but guess what? At the end of the day, his colleague got the promotion instead, you know why? He apologized too much; he was always trying not to offend anyone. In his boss’s words, “they needed someone who could take difficult decisions without being sorry. Sad right?

I don’t want to be him and I am betting you don’t want that either. Be wise!

About Stellamaris Obomanu

Loves to read, loves to write, loves to laugh, loves life and yeah, she's as real as they come.

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