Never Apologize for These Three Things

If you accidentally bump into a co-worker while walking down the hallway at work, do you automatically utter an apology?

Please don't.

Why not? The tendency to apologize can really undermine you at work, making you appear weak or incompetent. By apologizing, you are taking on blame. Was the hallway collision your fault? No. Your co-worker ran into you just as much as you ran into him.

A hallway fender-bender isn't a work competence issue, you say? Yes, it is. It's all about how you're viewed. If you're an automatic apologizer, you likely apologize in meetings, discussions with co-workers and supervisors, and interactions with clients.

You run the risk of seeming like a person who simply can't get it together.

Habitually apologizing might also annoy people around you. Plus, on some level in your brain, it's likely to make you feel as if you are to blame.

Why Are You an Apologist? Name It to Change It

If you tend to apologize for events that aren't your fault, think about why. That's the first step to changing any behavior.

  • Do you feel you're being polite? If so, erase that thought! In business life, it's self-sabotaging to apologize. It can stall promotions. It may even send you downhill.
  • Are you intimidated in certain business situations? If discussions with clients or managers make you feel small or less than, the words "I'm sorry" might be the result. Make a list of all your successes until you feel more than! Seriously, you are a competent colleague. Make sure you -- and other people -- know it.
  • Do you want colleagues to leap in and buck you up? For example, if you've apologized for not having data at your fingertips during a meeting, have you done it because you really want a co-worker to say it's your manager's fault?

Once you've identified the reasons, you become more aware. Change becomes more automatic.

Replace an Apology with Statements

So what do you do when situations arise that would have prompted an automatic apology before?

Simple. You replace "I'm sorry" with a statement expressing the real situation. You replace incompetence with the appearance of competence.

Here are three examples.

1. Figures are missing from a client presentation

During a PowerPoint presentation to clients, a key piece of data is missing. The old you would have said "Sorry, this data doesn't seem to be here."

A malfunction in either planning or technology can be embarrassing, but any fault doesn't need to be acknowledged -- on the part of you, or of any other person.

Why? Your job is to focus on the presentation's purpose. Target the client's needs.

They need the information, right? So focus on supplying it quickly. Show you know your stuff with this response: "Data showed that 83.3% of residents approved of our recycling plan. We will send you these figures after the meeting. Let's move on to the overwhelming approval of further green energy efforts, shown in the next slide." This is actually a great way to illustrate your competence!

2. A colleague asks you to pick up lunch

Josh overheard you calling the local salad bar for a pick-up. He asks if you'd bring back a sandwich.

Requests like this may seem innocent. They can undermine your authority at the office, though. Often food pick-up or delivery is done by the co-worker with lesser seniority or status. Becoming that person, even for one lunch hour, can make it seem like Josh has more authority than you. He's the person who asks. You're the one who does his bidding.

The new you? "The phone number for the salad bar is posted in the break room. See you after lunch."

3. You change jobs

You've found a great new job. You received a promotion and a 25 percent salary boost. When you tell your boss, he expresses great dismay. How will they ever master the new 3D printing program without you?

The old you might have said, "I'm sorry. I know this is kind of leaving you in the lurch! I'll work until you find a replacement."

It's your right to make a good career move. Don't engage with his unhappiness. Finding a replacement is a managerial responsibility.

So, what does the new you say? "I've loved working here. I've really learned so much. Thanks!"

Eliminate apologies from your vocabulary. Enjoy the benefits of being direct!