I apologize often. Bump into someone who walked right into me? My fault! Don’t answer someone’s text during a busy work day? I’m sorry for being the worst friend! Make one minor mistake out of human nature? I promise I’ll make this up to you!
Unnecessarily saying sorry is a bad habit to form, especially in the workplace. Not only does this make you appear subservient, it also gives the impression that you don’t truly mean it. Heard of the boy who cried wolf? Don’t be the worker who muttered “sorry.” It’s toxic to your reputation and your confidence.
A powerful mentor once advised me to never apologize. Of course, this is easier said than done – as I have realized through experience. I challenged myself to a week of no apologizing in the workplace. Here’s how it went and what I learned.
I was off to a good start. The morning was fine simply because there was nothing that I felt required an apology. I followed my usual routine of checking emails, outlining stories, securing interviews and conducting research. But when late afternoon rolled around, I realized I had forgotten to do a task for my editor.
While I am human, I don’t like to make mistakes or inconvenience anyone – especially someone who relies on and believes in me. I felt immediate guilt and resorted to panic mode, wanting to apologize and explain myself and somehow make it up to my boss, who responded with “no worries!” To me, it was a major worry.
So, I said I was sorry – which, to be fair, I felt was the appropriate thing to do here. And I only said it once as opposed to multiple times spanned throughout the hour. But still, my goal was to stop apologizing for an entire workweek; one day in and I’d already gone back on my word.
Day 1 lesson: Everyone make mistakes. But it’s better to learn from them and express your sorrow through actions than to insistently offer two overused words.
While reviewing my inbox first thing in the morning, I remembered there were a few PR reps waiting for me to send them interview questions for their clients. My initial reaction was to apologize for the delay, but I stopped myself. Why did I feel the need to say sorry for not getting back to them right away, despite the 40 other emails I still needed to sort through from the weekend?
Instead, I thanked the PR reps for their patience. Doing so made me feel more powerful than self-conscious. Typically, I’d rush to apologize and spend the day dwelling over my lack of efficiency. Instead, I moved on to my next task for the day without a second thought.
Day 2 lesson: Turn your “sorry” into something positive by showing appreciation and gratitude instead of distress and regret.
I had to edit my bio on our company website. I typed up my “about me,” chose a photo and signed on to fill out my profile. However, I didn’t have access to add this information – which I later learned was a bug.
When I messaged my boss regarding the issue, I found myself typing “I’m sorry to bother you, but …” before explaining my problem. Instantly, I caught myself and backspaced. What could I have possibly done to cause a technological flaw? Absolutely nothing. So why was I saying sorry for taking the initiative to solve it?
Instead of starting my sentence with a timid apology, I greeted my boss and explained the situation, then ended it with a “thank you!” I felt as though we were on the same team, addressing a problem without delegating guilt to innocent contenders.
Day 3 lesson: Stop blaming yourself for things that are out of your control. You need to be your own best friend, your own advocate, if you want to get anywhere in your career – and in life.
For the entire week, I’d been emailing the same contact for an article he pitched to me earlier in the year. However, after three emails, I didn’t hear back from him – and my deadline was approaching. Of course, I had other interviews secured, but he was an important addition to the piece.
It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t checked my spam folder. Sure enough, as I browsed suspicious emails, I found that two of his had found their way into the junk inbox – to no fault of his or my own. Right away, I wanted to apologize for bombarding him with emails, as if I’d berated him rather than simply circled back for the second time.
However, before typing those two words that shall remain unspoken, I kindly explained what happened, thanked him for responding and being patient with me, and – when he took the blame – assured him it was not his fault.
Day 4 lesson: Most people apologize for misunderstandings simply to clear the air. Really, this creates even more of a disconnect and subconsciously positions one person higher than the other. Miscommunications are no one’s fault – simply explain your end of the situation and move forward.
Finally, my last day. While I thought I’d be relieved to get back to my normal, over-apologetic self, I actually found that I was feeling much more self-assured today – and I’m certain this challenge has contributed to it.
On a typical day, I’d feel guilty for a host of things, from not answering every single email and pitch in my inbox to making a simple typo in a draft. But today, that stress took a seat. I allowed myself to prioritize my tasks and focus on what needed to get done rather than spreading myself too thin.
Day 5 lesson: After just five days of turning my sorries into thank-yous, and my mistakes into motivation to do better, I already feel more poised and powerful – which does wonders for any career. This is a practice that should be exercised each day.
Going forward, I hope you value yourself enough to forgive your mistakes and move forward – unapologetically.