Can apologizing too much hurt your career?

Can apologizing too much hurt your career?

“Sorry, but I didn’t get your email.”

“Sorry, but I can’t make it to that meeting.”

“Sorry, but I have a question.”

If you tend to start most of your sentences with “Sorry, but….” you may be hurting your career. Women, in particular, are prone to over-apologizing in the workplace, but anyone can fall victim to this tendency. So if you find yourself apologizing for everything from arriving late to the rainy weather, read on to find out why, learn some alternative ways to communicate, and how to properly apologize when it’s warranted.

Effects of apologizing too much

There are many downsides to apologizing too much in the workplace:

  1. You may seem ineffective

    If you’re constantly apologizing not only for things that you did wrong, but also things that are out of your control, it can come across as weakness and even incompetence. Apologizing for requesting equipment that you need to do your job, for example, isn’t necessary. You may think that you’re putting yourself in someone’s good graces by apologizing, but if you didn’t actually do anything wrong (or if you did something so trivial as to be inconsequential), you’re taking on blame you don’t deserve.

  2. You may seem weak

    Apologizing for every little thing can lead coworkers and others to believe they can take advantage of you. After all, you’re taking on blame that you don’t necessarily deserve. From taking on extra work to staying late to becoming the office scapegoat, being perceived as weak comes with plenty of disadvantages.

    What’s more, you give the impression that you undervalue your strengths. By over-apologizing, you gloss over your strong points and focus on the negative aspects of your job performance as well as your personal merit and character.

  3. You may not be taken seriously

    If you apologize for borrowing the stapler, not coming into work because you are sick, or not having a document because you are waiting on approval from another department, you may find that others become immune to your apologies. What’s more, when you issue an apology that is heartfelt and necessary, it may carry less weight.

  4. Your mental health may suffer

    Your mental health is vital to your performance at work. If you’re overly stressed because you’re worried about transgressions (whether they’re real or imagined) it can start to affect your work performance, which can lead to even more stress.

    Apologizing too much can impact your mental health. If you are constantly apologizing, even for things that weren’t your fault or really don’t matter, you can start to feel powerless and dependent on validation from others, which can damage your self-esteem and lead to unwarranted stress.

    Apologizing constantly can also be a symptom of high anxiety, so be particularly mindful of how often you apologize if you know that you struggle with anxiety.

When and how to apologize

Bearing in mind the negative effects of apologizing too much, there are times when an apology is due.

Here are some things to consider when you do apologize:

  1. Know what to say

    A good apology should show genuine remorse and acknowledge that you have wronged another person. Here are some steps you can take to make sure your apology is well-received and productive.

  2. Take ownership

    Ask yourself whether what happened was actually your fault. If you can’t decide, run it past a few trusted friends or coworkers. If the consensus is that you weren’t to blame, you may still want to apologize, if someone was inconvenienced, for example. This can help to mend fences. The most important aspect to consider here is why you are apologizing.

  3. Consider your approach

    If you’ve made a mistake on a project at work, for example, it’s best to apologize in person to your supervisor, client, and any others whom your error has affected.

    If you’re running late, however, apologizing over the phone may be your only option.

  4. Consider timing

    In some cases, such as showing up late to an interview, you can apologize immediately. In this case, the reason for your tardiness may have been beyond your control, but you’ve still inconvenienced someone whom you’ve just met. If it isn’t possible to apologize right away, do so as soon as you can. This will stop any bad feelings from growing.

  5. Avoid excuses

    It’s best to avoid excuses if possible, as they can make your apology seem less sincere. If there is a valid reason for the error or behavior, you can mention it, just try not to dwell on it.

  6. Share your ideas

    Be sure to think about how you can fix the situation before you apologize. A good apology should include both a plan to fix what has already gone wrong and ideas for preventing the mistake from happening again.

  7. See it through

    Fix the problem to the extent possible and hold yourself accountable for preventing future mistakes.

Everyone makes mistakes, but with a little self-reflection and good communication, you can minimize the fallout, maintain good working relationships, and protect your mental health and reputation.