I hope you are staying positive in these uncertain times and finding the silver linings where you can. This week I want to discuss the impact of women apologising unnecessarily at work. We all know someone like this (or are that person ourselves!) so it is important to realise that apologising isn’t always a positive thing to do, especially when you don’t have anything to apologise for! Carry on reading for my thoughts on the topic.

Why do women unnecessarily apologise at work? 

There is a fascinating piece of research carried out by Karina Schumann, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh that concluded: “Despite the wide acceptance of the stereotype that women apologise more readily than men, there is little systematic evidence to support this stereotype.” The research goes on to conclude that although there is no clear evidence that women do apologise more, they rate the offences more severely than men and hence why it is perceived that women are apologising more.

The reasons are many but one of the most prevalent is linked to upbringing. If a woman was raised within a family that does not allow room for strong opinions and values social appearances, she will be more likely to withdraw and apologise for simply existing in the space she is occupying. This learnt behaviour can be very detrimental to her career. 

I would also argue that women internalise the idea of what a woman should be. They might think a woman should always be soft-spoken and polite and if, god forbid, she states her point assertively, she is deemed aggressive and angry. This completely ludicrous view gets even worse when racial bias is added with black women stereotyped as angry if they dare to speak openly and with passion. We think that we have reached equality but there is a very long way to go.

Can apologising unnecessarily impact women’s careers or have any other detrimental effects?

A woman should strike a balance when it comes to apologising. No one wants to work with someone who never admits fault but at the same time, someone who is constantly apologising chips away at their own reputation within the organisation.
As individuals, we are terrible judges as to how we come across to others. By being quick to apologise you might think that you are coming across as polite and considerate when in fact, if you are apologising unnecessarily, you can appear insincere and can erode the trust your colleagues have towards you. 

Superfluous apologies can also show your clients and your superiors that you lack confidence and don’t really feel you belong at the table. This applies to emails too; including the following in your emails can be very detrimental: “this might not be a relevant point but…” You are minimising your arguments and showing a lack of confidence. People are busy and would rather you answer their question than getting lost in a myriad of unnecessary apologies.

What can we do to stop ourselves apologising unnecessarily?
Apologising unnecessarily is a habit and like every bad habit it is not easy to get rid of and it will certainly not happen overnight. A good place to start is to be aware of how much you apologise. Ask a trusted colleague or a friend whether they believe you apologise too much. If they say you do then try and keep a tally of all the times you apologise during the day. Just being conscious your apologies will help you reduce them.

Another quick exercise I give my clients and mentees is to read through their sent emails and count the number of times they started their emails with “I am sorry for the late reply” or any other apologetic expression. The shock factor is essential to trigger action. Learn to be intentional with the words you use especially when it comes to the word “sorry”. Each time you use the word sorry ask yourself why are you apologising? Were you at fault? Do you mean it? If you are throwing away this precious word then the day that you really need it, it will mean nothing.

You need to remember your worth and that you 100% belong in your position. Repeat it to yourself enough until you have internalised a more positive message than: “I don’t deserve to be here therefore I will apologise constantly.” Your self-esteem will skyrocket, and you will see a massive difference in how people treat you.