How To Stop Apologizing At Work

Hands up if you’ve been guilty of overusing “I’m sorry” a time or two. *Raises hand* Yeah, us too. The phrase has become such a go-to that we sometimes don’t even realize we’re doing it! Well, that stops now. It’s time to stop apologizing at work.While these two simple words may seem harmless, they actually can negatively affect the way others see you in the workplace and hurt your credibility. So we’ve put together this handy guide on how to stop apologizing at work and what to do instead.


Why is it important to stop apologizing at work?


Apologizing too much at work is a habit of admitting that you’re at fault or taking responsibility for an error or mistake that was, in fact, NOT your fault. Of course, when you DO make a mistake, own it. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. 

We’re talking about those moments where you insert “I’m sorry” as an introduction or conclusion to just about anything you say. For instance:

  • Apologizing for needing to ask a question or get time on your exec’s calendar.
  • Apologizing for contributing to a conversation or meeting.
  • Apologizing for things that are beyond your control, like having to reschedule a meeting a million times due to your executive’s moving target of a schedule.
  • Apologizing for delegating.
  • Apologizing when other people are at fault, like when THEY accidentally bumped into YOU but you’re the one that says “Oh, sorry!”

When you over-apologize, you’re effectively saying that what you did or said was wrong, and that conveys a lack of confidence and trust in yourself and your work. For example, say you’re in a meeting and want to raise a point. If you start out with “I’m sorry to interrupt but…” or “I’m sorry if this is…” you are immediately telling others that your contribution is not as valuable as others in that meeting. 

Over-apologizing at work could be hurting your professional image for many reasons. For one, it’s diminishing your colleagues’ ability to trust, believe and have confidence in your work or opinion. And this could be undermining your excellent work ethic and performance. 

Additionally, over-apologizing at work can make your real apologies seem less sincere. There are many times when a genuine, heart-felt apology can instantly diffuse a high-pressure situation. As an executive assistant, you need as many tools for conflict resolution as possible! Over-apologizing can make you seem disingenuous when it really counts. We can’t have that! 


What To Do Instead Of Over-Apologizing

As with breaking any bad habit, learning how to stop apologizing at work is a process that takes some practice. Here are some of our favorite tips (tried and true!) that have helped us quit.


1. Determine Why You Apologize and When

The easiest way to identify why you over-apologize is to figure out what’s triggering you to think you need to. What are the feelings that come up and make you want to apologize when it’s not necessary? 

Here’s a quick exercise: Think about all the instances when you over-apologize. Do you use an apology when you:

  • Anticipate a bad reaction from others and you’re trying to avoid their wrath?
  • Are afraid to be visible and take up space?
  • Nervousness about asking for help, support or requests because you might be turned down?
  • Believe that your knowledge or questions or contributions are not as important because you’re just an assistant?

How do these situations make you feel? Is there a common theme or common feeling that all of these scenarios bring up for you? Once you start to see what emotions are actually causing you to say “I’m sorry” too much, then you can learn how to stop apologizing and nip your reaction in the bud.  

To jump start this, let us remind you: You are an executive assistant, and that means you are powerful beyond measure. You run things.

You are the eyes and ears not only of your executive, but in many instances, of your entire organization. You know people and departments like the back of your hand. You know when it’s a good time to make a request from sales (and when it is definitely NOT a good time). You know how Susan in accounting is going to react to being assigned certain tasks. You know that your executive’s calendar is always in motion and you’re going to have to reschedule everything at least three times. 

You can see it all coming and can anticipate others’ next moves before they even know what they’re going to do themselves. Use that superpower to read the room and strategically communicate as needed. 

If you want to take on more responsibility, grow in your role and step further into a leadership position, you SHOULD be asking questions, speaking up, sharing your thoughts, thinking strategically and communicating effectively with all stakeholders

Do not apologize for being awesome at your job!


2. Find Apology Alternatives: What To Say Instead of “I’m Sorry”

Over-apologizing can be a way of overcompensating when we “feel bad” or uncomfortable about asking for something or speaking up on our own behalf. 

To cut down on your overcompensating compulsion, be clear, direct and concise in your communication. Each time you get the impulse to keep going and throw in an “I’m sorry,” just stop talking or typing. 

To help, here are our best tips on what to say instead of “I’m sorry.”

When delegating: Explain the situation, making sure others understand the urgency or importance of the request, along with a clear timeline or deadline. Finish with: “Do you have what you need to get started?” or “I appreciate your support on this,” and offer to be a resource if they have questions.  

When things are changing that are beyond your control: “I know I’ve had to move this several times. Thank you for understanding.”

When taking feedback or constructive criticism: Don’t apologize for them having an opinion about your work. Instead say, “Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll be sure to note that moving forward.”

When making a request: “I had questions about this project. Is now a good time?” instead of “Sorry to bother you.”

When contributing in a group or meeting: “I’d like to weigh in here.”

When something has taken longer than you expected: “Thanks for your patience” instead of “Sorry for the delay.” 

Can you FEEL the difference in strength of those statements instead of the self-defeating “sorry”?


3. Get Support from Other Executive Assistants

Let your closest EA officemates know what you’re trying to accomplish. You can ask for your willing colleagues to give you a subtle signal when they notice you slipping back into sorry’s. Chances are, you’re not the only one struggling with over-apologizing at work. Make it a team effort and celebrate with each other when you make strides. 

Again, developing any new habit can be tricky and takes time. You will start off strong, only to occasionally fall back into your old ways of over-apologizing. But stick with it and commit to getting back on track. Trust us, the feelings of increased confidence, self-esteem and command that you’ll develop after breaking this habit are totally worth it.  

Definitely don’t apologize for wanting executive assistant professional development! Register today for one of our ELS Forums and take advantage of our expert executive assistant training.


And for more resources on being the best executive assistant you can be, check out our other posts: