You Need to Stop Saying ‘I’m Sorry’ at Work, and Here’s Why

You shouldn't be sorry. Really.

You Need to Stop Saying ‘I’m Sorry’ at Work, and Here’s Why

Women apologize far too much. Whether they say, “I’m sorry,” as a means to fill an empty space that needs some sort of response or because they have somehow been raised to apologize for being somewhat of an “inconvenience,” it needs to stop. You can be sorry all you want when you eff up on a huge scale, but you shouldn’t be sorry to ask a question, if someone bumps into YOU, or for any other situation in which you have no reason to be sorry. “I’m sorry,” are powerful words when you mean them, but when they’re used as a crutch, an automatic response for your existence, they’re insulting to the woman saying them.

Where women really need to cease saying “I’m sorry” is at work. Women are quick to apologize for things that are out of their control or shouldn’t be apologetic for. Her computer is having an issue, so she apologizes to the technician; she takes the last available seat in the conference room for the big meeting; she’s sorry for it; on her lunch break, they guy at the deli tells her they’re all out of avocado, and she apologizes for that, too. I mean, what gives? Why are YOU sorry for any of those things? It’s not your fault your computer crapped out, that you were on time to the meeting, or that everyone loves avocado so the deli ran out. Think about it.  

The problem with consistently apologizing is that you’re giving your power away, and nowhere is power more needed than in the workplace. Gender inequality is still rampant in the business world (the gender pay gap, anybody?), so every time you apologize, you’re presenting yourself as a meek individual who isn’t just sorry for whatever situation she’s in, but sorry for being a woman. It takes women down several notches, robs us of our power, and reduces us to a level of servitude. In saying “I’m sorry,” a woman strips herself of any responsibility, any equality, and ends up setting the entire gender back decades, especially in the workplace. It’s a way to soften the blow of pointing out to your coworkers and boss that you exist, something for which you should never be sorry.

According to Robin Lakoff, a linguist at University of California, Berkeley, and author of, Language and Woman’s Place, “Sorry is a ritualized form meaning something like, ‘I hope this is O.K. with you. It lets people — especially women — get away with saying what the other person doesn’t want to hear.”

It’s as if you’re asking permission, when you should rather be taking a stand and making demands. Strong women, women who take back their power, don’t say, “I’m sorry,” because they’re not sorry and they don’t have time to play that game. Be one of those women.

While initially it may be a shift in the usual way you communicate, try to go an entire day without saying, “I’m sorry.” When you notice the phrase coming up, feeling it on the back of your tongue, think about why you want to say those words. Are you really sorry? Or are you just saying you’re sorry, because you think you should be sorry for being some sort of inconvenience? If it’s the latter, don’t say it. You’re not sorry. In fact, you’re not even sorry that you’re not sorry. In recognizing how guilty you are of saying the phrase, you can hopefully put an end to it. It may not close the gender pay gap immediately or give us more women CEOs in the world overnight, but it will bring us one step closer to ultimate equality in the workplace. Something, I’m pretty sure, we all want.